It never rains……….

We had been having a couple of hiccoughs with the engine starting for a while – nothing too serious, we thought, but it was labouring like a flat battery type scenario even though the battery is new, so we decided whilst at anchor on one of the Perlas Islands that we would have a good look at it. We spent a day trying to find the problem – testing batteries, wiring, voltage drops, connections etc – everything seemed fine but whenever we tried to start the engine we got a a significant voltage drop in the wires and the starter lacked power. Chief suspect was now the starter motor, so one more test with a clamp meter confirmed it was trying to draw around 1000A - that would explain the big voltage drop too, so must be starter motor, or else engine is seized. Problem was we had been starting it on and off all day doing the tests and finally it just wouldn't start at all! So no engine………

The next day the forecast was for light winds dying down to practically nothing as the week went on so we decided that we should sail back to Las Brises in Panama City that day (about 60 miles to windward, so like 90!) We expected to take at least 24 hours. We weighed anchor under main and staysail (which is self tacking) and started tacking to get around an anchored ‘Fishing Club Floating Hotel' and some rocks before we could get around the headland into clear water. We had to use the stay sail as on the way down we had broken the belt for the electric furler for the genoa. The idea was to sail north between Isla Del Rey and the 2 islands to the west – Isla San Jose and Isla Pedro Miguel. There was about 10 – 12 knots over the deck “25 would be nice for this staysail” says Matt – famous last words! We weren't making much speed with the little staysail and the tide was taking us south, however we had caught a fish which Matt gutted and filleted. When Matt saw the wind shift we went for it – tacked and then decided we were in for the long haul in light winds so decided to use the genoa. It has to be tediously unfurled manually from up at the bow and is a very slow procedure – anyhow Matt did his best and the sail was out. We were going great guns – the tide had turned and we were making 8 knots over the ground. We were having a great sail ‘Isn't it nice not to have that steep chop you get in the Caribbean' says I – famous last words! Speeding past some of the anchorages on the 2 islands we had hoped to visit, we were making a good direction and got to the north of the second island by around mid afternoon. Here we had to put a tack in to get around some of the smaller islands and that's when the wind started to pick up a bit…

Normally we have to furl the genoa before tacking so it can pass between the forestay and the staysail, but furling it manually every time we needed to tack was not on. The technique was: pull out the staysail to close the gap behind it, Matt goes up to the bow, takes his position sitting with his back to the pulpit and grabs the genoa sheet, gives me the shout and I let the sheet go completely, tack the boat, put it on auto and then pull in the other sheet like mad as Matt pulls the sail through. Matt then comes back finishes winding in the sheet and I get the boat on course and we put away the stay sail. Ooofff ! No sweat – well maybe a bit! First tack no problemo and off we go again. It seems to be getting quite windy and we are being headed but OK we just have that bit further to go – we don't want to have to tack too much so we keep going. We decided to have dinner before it got dark so I cooked us up a bit of the fish we had caught earlier – yummy - fish in breadcrumbs, mashed potatoes and peas. Still going quite well but wind picking up all the time. Remember that steep chop I had mentioned earlier? Well ‘just like that' (Tommy Cooper style) it started to get a bit bumpy and then it really started to get bumpy – we were going from 7 to around 3 knots as we crashed into the waves. The sun had gone down so it wasn't easy to see what the sea was doing but my goodness could we feel what it was doing! Now remember, we have our big genoa up (which is quite big on a 57 foot boat) and can't furl it unless we do it from the bow and then it will take ages to do manually. Neither of us liked the idea of Matt going up to the bow to do it so we held on. We took a couple of waves right over the top of the bimini and into the cockpit. We were well heeled (and I don't mean lots of money!) and still crashing through the waves. Matt was trying to pinch up to keep the apparent wind speed down (it was reaching 27 knots). When it eased a bit he put it on autohelm and we just sat back and thought of England! We had about 2 hours of this and then as quickly as it started the sea calmed down and we were once again sailing on a gentle rolling sea but still with 20 -25 knots of wind. Not a problem with the genoa though – we tacked it a couple more times (in the lulls) and were heading up to the east of the bay (away from the main shipping anchorage). We just had to get in as far as we could and do one more tack then put the genoa away (yes we still had it up!) and the staysail out so we could get into the anchorage and tack our way around the boats to find a spot. We had recently installed AIS but the computer has ‘windows 7' and it decided that the AIS was a mouse (apparently a common problem we discovered later) so we were using the radar to dodge the many ships. Great stuff, we dodged a couple of ships in the shipping channel but as we neared the anchorage it too decided it didn't want to work! It was around 2 in the morning, what moon there had been had gone so it was rather dark. We now had to put away the genoa – Matt was up at the bow manually winding in the genoa, I was trying to control the sheets so they wouldn't throttle him and we had the stay sail out – we were bearing down into the anchorage at 7 knots and I daren't come up into the wind or the genoa would've wrapped around him. Nail biting time! Anyway it all got put away and we just had to get into the anchorage and find a spot to drop the hook. I was up on deck with a torch, shouting back to Matt to tack to avoid any large unlit hulks (surprisingly quite a number) and anything else that was in the way! The wind had dropped to under 20 knots but we still had a few close shaves until eventually we found a space, wound away the stay sail, dropped the hook then put the main away. We were a bit nervous as the anchorage is known not to have good holding - would've been a bit of a nightmare if we had started to drag! Anyway we had a bit of a midnight feast of quiche (one I made earlier) and beans - it was 4.30 am – we had made it in 17 hours! And it never rained once!

Good news – we took the starter motor to a small electrical repair shop in Panama City, they opened it up – it was completely shot but they just happened to have replacement parts and fixed it up – engine starts like a dream – as I say that I'm just knocking on wood!  And we sorted the windows 7/AIS pproblem, the radar is working again but (bad news) the wifi antenna and the FM radio have decided they've had enough! No it doesn't rain - it pours!

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