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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Update from Panama City

It's hard to know where to begin after such a long dry spell away from the blog. I'll try to cover a few of the highlights so that I don't have to write a book.

First on the list is to thank everyone who wrote John consoling him about missing Ziggy, and to let you all know that the big Z. is back - bigger and badder than ever! John and I talked about it while I was still up in the States and we decided that if the woman wasn't completely happy with Ziggy, John would offer to take him back. No surprise to us, it turned out that Ziggy had bitten just about everyone in her family, including her adult son who had to see a doctor for his (probably infected) wounds. We assume that the son most likely engaged Ziggy in some serious hand play which, as we tell everyone who visits Nakia, is a big no-no. John arranged to retrieve Ziggy the morning of my return, so I came back to an intact household.

During my absence John got a recommendation for a local vet who can arrange for the blood test required for entry to rabies-free places like French Polynesia and Hawaii. The day after my return we hired a taxi to take Ziggy to this vet for all three of his annual booster shots and installation of an ISO approved micro-chip valid for foreign countries. We learned that we would have to wait 30 days after his rabies shot to take the blood sample in order to ensure that the necessary markers would be present in his blood. This means that we will stay in or close to Panama City until that chore is done in mid-March. We obviously weighed all the pros and cons before considering Ziggy away in the first place, and we are totally thrilled to have him back in spite of the cons. He's a one of a kind cat (aren't they all) and our lives are much richer with him on board.

I, of course, had a wonderful visit stateside. The weather in both Seattle and Pendleton was lovely and dry 95 percent of the time, with a dusting of snow to wake up to one morning in Seattle. We are between renters so I was able to spend almost a week on Bainbridge Island camping out in our little condo right by the ferry terminal. Everything was beautiful and I enjoyed lots of shopping and eating foods I hadn't tasted in years (a reuben sandwich at the Three Girl's Bakery in Pike Place Market, Indian lunch buffet, sourdough bread, Mission style burritos, fabulous baked goods, P.F. Chang's, Il Fornaio, salmon, pizza, Greek salads, a terrific burger at Hamley's in Pendleton, and much more). It was the best vacation I've had in ages, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Of course the visit wouldn't be complete without returning with as much stuff as I could carry on the plane. I carefully packed, weighed, and repacked until I was able to get all the boat parts John had ordered, and other items I had bought, into my two checked bags and one carry-on. I ended up with 49 and 46.4 lbs in my two checked bags, and close to the allowable 40 lbs in my carry on. The latter included half a dozen new novels and almost a full year's worth of back issues of Vanity Fair magazine which I look forward to devouring on our upcoming ocean passages!

In other big news John and I transited the Panama Canal on 2/21 as line handlers for Frank and Gisela on S/V Shared Dreams. John had already made the trip on another boat while I was gone, but he agreed to go again with me. This was a once in a lifetime experience and I'm so happy we were able to do it with friends. To make it even more fun we were "nested" or center tied in each chamber with the catamaran Gloriamaris, captained by Tom and Lilianna, and crewed, among others, by friends Rob and Linda from Cat'n About and John from M/V Maestra. We completed the transit in one day (it often takes small boats two days to complete a transit), and only had one hiccup at the end when a weld failed on the engine exhaust elbow, spraying saltwater all over the engine compartment. Frank, John and Gisela worked quickly to get the problem under control and we never had to take the engine out of gear. We were only a few buoys from the "Flats" anchorage in Colon when it happened and had no trouble getting in and anchored. Our Canal advisor, Ricardo Alberto Gonzalez Fung, was an outstanding guy. He spoke very good English, was extremely helpful during the transit, and encouraged us along at every step of the way. We couldn't have asked for a more professional and courteous advisor.

In other news: John sold our 15 HP Evinrude and bought a new 9.8 Tohatsu. The Evinrude was still a trouper but John had concerns about taking an old outboard to remote places like the South Pacific. We visited the huge Metropolitan Park here in Panama City and didn't see monkeys or sloths - until we got back to the parking lot here at La Playita where I finally got to see the resident sloth. The water temperature in the area (including the Las Perlas islands) has dropped from a high of 82.6 F to a very cold 70.2 F. Needless to say we're showering on board now and John runs the generator just long enough to take the edge off the chill. We can even feel the difference in the breeze over the water as we ride in the dinghy. That Humboldt current is really something.

Linda and John

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Panama City, Panama

This has not been a good week on NAKIA.

It all started last Thursday, the 29th. Linda flew to Seattle leaving the two boys, John and Ziggy, to their own devices. Then on Saturday the owner of the dock here in Panama City threatened to close the dinghy dock. You're not allowed to land on the shore. It's basically a rock jetty anyway and would make a terrible dinghy landing, so you either have to keep your boat at the Balboa Yacht Club (moderately expensive), Flamenco Marina (very expensive), or anchor at La Playita and use the dinghy dock. The owner said he was going to close the dock because very few people pay for the dock (it's $5 daily or $100 a month). I listened to him and told him I'd get on the radio and tell the fleet that they need to either pay or the owner would close the dock. A heated discussion resulted on the VHF and I think only a few people ended up paying. Cruisers, in general, are cheap. The non-payers seem to think they need better services or a lower price. My personal feeling is that they would not pay no matter how inexpensive it was.

On the Friday before the dinghy dock issue came up I did something that Linda and I had discussed before she left. Since the South Pacific is a difficult (and expensive) place to take a pet, and since Ziggy really doesn't like sailing, we thought it would be best to find him a nice house to live in. I put an add in Panama Craig's List looking for a new home for Ziggy. There's not much traffic on Craig's List in Panama so I really didn't expect much to come of it.

Last Saturday night (the same day as the dinghy dock thing) I got an email from a local woman looking to adopt Ziggy. I called her Sunday and arranged to meet. She's a very nice Panamanian woman who lives in her family home (of 40 years) with her parents. Her mother takes care of the house and her father is a Professor at one of Panama City's many Universities. She is a software engineer and has had cats before. Anyway, she came out to La Playita and met Ziggy, then we all loaded up in her car and drove to her house. Everything looked good so I left Ziggy in her care.

So in three days I'd managed to become totally alone on NAKIA with the threat of not being able to get ashore hanging over my head.

Things didn't get much better during the week and on Friday they got worse.

First some background: The dinghy dock in La Playita is really a commercial dock. The commercial dock is for ferries that go to Taboga Island (about 7 miles from Panama City) and for ship service boats (40-45 foot steel and aluminum boats that deliver crew and supplies to ships at anchor in Panama Bay). You really have to watch where you tie up your dinghy because there's risk of getting in the way of the ferries. The dock isn't level, and in an attempt to lower the high side there is a large concrete mooring block sitting on one corner. The concrete block has a ring on top and some cruisers had been using the ring to tie up their dinghies. Well Friday was very busy at the dinghy dock end of things. There were maybe 30 dinghies tied and some were definitely in the way of the ferry. A ferry backing away from the dock caught one or more of the painters of the dinghies tied to the concrete block in its prop and dragged the concrete block off the dock. Unfortunately, the block landed on a couple dinghies, damaging them badly. I've been told a scene occurred involving cruisers and dock employees that probably wasn't pleasant.

On Saturday the office manager for the ferry/work/dinghy dock got on the radio and announced that they would no longer allow dinghies to tie to the dock. If you had pre-paid you can use it until your pre-pay time runs out, but after that no more time will be sold and dinghies will not be allowed to land at the dock. You can't even drop people off without tying up.

Personally, I'm on the dock owner's side. With few exceptions the group of cruisers here in La Playita are probably the cheapest, whiniest assortment I've ever had the displeasure of being anchored with. Worse even than in Bahia de Caraquez. A lot of it may have to do with being in Panama City and/or La Playita (this is not a nice anchorage; between the ship wakes and wind chop boats anchored farther out roll terribly) but there is absolutely no excuse for not paying for a service when you are using that service. Particularly when the owner threatens to remove the service if you don't pay for it!

So there it is. I'm living alone on NAKIA in an anchorage that I can't stand and after the 13th of February (Friday the 13th, by the way; that's when my pre-pay runs out) I won't be able to land my dinghy unless I drive it 1.5 miles around the point through heavy wind chop to get to Flamenco Marina (they also have a dinghy dock but it's primarily used during the wet season when the wind/swell comes from the south).

Oh, and I really, really, really miss my cat.

John (just John)