Tag Archives: alternator


The excitement about the Panama Canal builds as we approach Colon and see many ships in the distance. In fact, check out this photo taken of our chart plotter. Each little triangle is a ship. They are almost all anchored, waiting to transit the canal (or in some cases to be loaded/unloaded in the port). Can be tricky to pick out the one that’s actually moving, that needs to be avoided!


Crossing the swath of ships, we get to Shelter Bay Marina. Ah, showers and laundry services and a restaurant!



Our new alternator was successfully (and expensively!) delivered. We installed it, and it works fine. A new propeller for our hydro-generator has also arrived, and is now installed. We discovered two broken bits of rigging hardware, and people have promised to help us with replacements, but they haven’t shown up yet. We have also noticed that the bolts holding the stays for our sprit (where the forward sail is connected) are starting to bend. The connection for these stays is not very well designed, and we are hoping to come up with a better solution before we head into the Pacific. In other words, we have boat projects still.

But also we have BPO things to do. For starters, this is the first place where the Key West boats and the boats that started in Martinique are together at a marina. So there is lots of socializing, both on boats and at the restaurant, as we all get to know each other. For some reason our crew seems to have an affinity for the Martinique crowd more than the Key West contingent. (Not that there’s anyone we don’t like, of course. And probably by the time we go through the Galapagos we will no longer be making a distinction about where boats started.) And Jimmy Cornell (BPO organizer) is in town, and planning some of our activities.

We had a delightful briefing by Jimmy about the wonders to come of the Galapagos, the Marquesas, the Tuomotus, the Society Islands (which include Tahiti), and even a little hint about what he’s cooking up for Indonesia. We’ve also had a less pleasant briefing about the administrative requirements for entering the Galapagos, which are onerous and at times non-sensical, and which seem to change almost daily. Boats have been turned away for not complying with unreasonable requirements!

But first comes the Canal. Transit through the Canal also has many requirements. Each boat requires, in addition to the “master” of the ship, four line handlers. We will have to hire two. And we must have four 125′ long 7/8″ lines. We have zero that qualify, but the BPO is providing these, plus tires to be available as fenders. A measurer has to come in advance, and ask lots of questions about the boat, measure its length and width, and provide an official number to identify it for Canal purposes. We’ve made it through this step. All the BPO boats had to be measured before the Canal Authority would schedule our transit. On Tuesday the Authority gave us permission to transit on Wednesday. Wait!! No one was ready; provisioning is not done; projects are in mid-stream. Jimmy had been pushing for fast transit because it can take many days before it is scheduled, but now he had to reply that we couldn’t go on the schedule offered!

The revised plan is for 6 boats to start Saturday and complete Sunday, and the remaining 5 to start Monday and complete Tuesday. With the revised schedule they could not give us an entire lock to our fleet of 11 boats, because every boat requires a Canal pilot (who gives directions where to go, how fast, how to tie up in the locks, etc), and this weekend being Carnival weekend they say they had to cancel some scheduled vacations to accommodate us at all! We are in the second group, which reduces the time pressure on us and our incomplete projects. Our two extra days won’t help much, though, since they are Saturday and Sunday, when we won’t be able to get any materials or outside assistance. The time will help me catch up with my blog though, before we head to the big no-wifi zone of the ocean…

With this post, I am going to consider Part 1 of the Blue Planet Odyssey complete. The BPO isn’t really divided into “parts” — this is my own view of it. Getting to the Canal staging area was, in my mind, the first part. Part 2 will take us through the Canal and include many adventures in the Pacific Ocean.

San Blas, and Mainland Panama to Colon

Switched alternators between the two engines, as a final confirmation that our problem is in the alternator, which it is. So we’ve ordered a new one that hopefully will get through to us in Colon next week. Moved to beautiful anchorage in Coco Banderos group of cays. Drinks with fellow BPOers aboard Om. Hoping tomorrow is a day of relaxing and snorkeling.

Lots of snorkeling. Saw a ray with an Extremely long tail. Looked menacing but it paid no attention to me.

Last night we anchored directly in the lee of a small island, which was nice for protection from waves, but we didn’t like the greatly diminished wind. It felt much hotter, plus we lost the power from our wind generator. So today we moved a couple miles west, and anchored “out.” That is, instead of anchoring in the usual protected spot, we’re anchored behind the barrier reef, with nothing but the reef and its surf between us and…some place for away…maybe Jamaica…? It’s somewhat bouncy, but that’s okay with me, so long as I have a steady wind blowing through my port/window.

Tonight is probably our last night in San Blas, as we are going to leave early tomorrow and start heading west toward Colon. We want to stop in Portobello, which would be quite a long day of fast sailing from here. So tomorrow we might stop somewhere along the way, then Saturday night in Portobello, then do the 20 miles from there to Colon Sunday.

It’s been a beautiful day of not doing much but snorkeling. I discovered a wreck (steel boat, maybe 50 feet long) on the reef very near by. That was unexpected and cool. Tim saw a shark (about 5′) in the same area. Luckily he (Tim) had already had a long swim, so it was an easy decision to make his way back toward the boat… Tim has also repeatedly seen sea turtles, but by the time he points them out to Bill and me, they are gone.

We bought a fish from a local boat. We tried to do that once before, but after “placing our order” they never returned with a fish. The guys today returned with quite a selection. We had a big dinner plus applesauce cake and fresh pineapple for dessert. A little celebration, of sorts, of our time in San Blas, which has been very pleasant. It is a delightful cruising ground, and I find that I really like the local Gunas, too.

But as usual I’m happy with the thought of moving on. I want to get to Colon, get the boat well provisioned, do laundry (everything I wear or sleep on is salty), take a real shower, collect our equipment that’s been sent to us at huge expense, and then I want to “do” The Canal!!

Beautiful/fast sail about 50 miles to Portobello, just 20 miles from Colon. We plan to hang out here tomorrow and explore the little town, then head for Colon on Sunday (along with almost all the other BPOers).

As we rolled along with the 10′ waves today I was thinking about how a good sailor is always thinking about what could go wrong, yet one wants to be present and enjoy the “now.” An interesting balance…

This day was about exploring Portobello, and learning a little history. We were told that when the Spanish took (one way or another) gold from Peru and Equador 400+ years ago, that it was sailed north to Panama City, and then brought over the mountains by mule train to Portobello, where it could be loaded on ships for Spain. Hence the big forts and cannons on both sides of the harbor. We also visited the church that is the home of the “Black Christ.” I don’t fully understand this, since I thought there was only one Christ, but they have another here, and he apparently gets a lot of attention. Tourists/pilgrims come by bus to see him. The day culminated with dinner at Captain Jack’s with the crews of Lovesail, Maggie and Ransom. Fun, except that I’m suffering from intestinal pains…

The Ransom crew had an interesting story about cruising in San Blas. They went to anchor at an island, and two Guna men came out and demanded (quite aggressively) $10 to anchor off their island. Of course we have all paid big bucks for cruising permits that allow us to anchor anywhere among the San Blas islands. But the local guys don’t care about that. The crew speaks good Spanish, and tried to reason with them, saying they were simply anchoring for the night and not coming ashore, and thus not using their island. But the locals would have none of that, and basically the fee had to be paid, given the unspoken threat that their dinghy might be slashed in the morning, or some such retribution. This experience, plus the sloppy handling of trash by the locals, colored their San Blas impression. They conclude that the San Blas culture is threatened by much more than just sea level rise.

Arrived at marina in Colon, near the mouth of the Panama Canal. Now have wifi, so I’ll be getting to work on photos…

Cruising in San Blas

Thursday: We headed east to the more classic sandy cay anchorages behind the reefs. But first came engine issues. The starboard alternator is putting out low amps, like 10 instead of 80. We spent some time investigating this, but to no avail. Then the starboard engine failed to generate much thrust, when we needed it to clear another boat, in the process of raising the anchor. For some long seconds we were seriously thinking we might have another collision, or end up on the reef to leeward. (We’ve seen four boats on reefs since we arrived, and we’re told they are all recent…) And then the engine started running okay. Bad injector…? It remains a mystery, as does the alternator output.

These travails are nearly forgotten, as we are now anchored in a fabulously beautiful spot, the sound of distant surf on the reefs as a backdrop. A sandy palm-covered cay a short distance away; an unimpeded wind keeping things cool. We all had the feeling today that we have finally ‘arrived.’ Bread is baking; chicken is thawing; sprouts are ready to eat. As we have traditionally said on my boats, “This hardly sucks at all!”

Friday: Some work on the wind generator (successful), some snorkeling, some troubleshooting of the alternator (unsuccessful), and a lively social gathering aboard Chapter Two (big catamaran; easily accommodated all of us) of the four crews that left from Key West.

Saturday: A lively social gathering on BBQ Cay of (almost) all the BPO and Pacific Odyssey crews. So many names to learn, and who is on which boat!

As a small flotilla of dinghies pulled up on the beach of the tiny island we were greeted by a welcoming committee of two locals who demanded $3 per person to visit the island. This was unexpected; no one had money with them. Some thought it was fair, like a park fee (the island was nicely groomed). Others thought it was crazy and we should go elsewhere. Others thought it was reasonable, but questioned who the two were, and what right they had to ask for money. I went back to the boat (ours was one of the closest), and got money to pay for everyone, and suddenly everyone was “amigos” and we had a good time.

Sunday: We had plans to move on to cays to the east, but instead the entire day was spent learning about alternators and voltage regulators. Not an unpleasant day though. Wondering how the Patriots did in the Superbowl…

Monday: Sailed 10 miles southeast to another section of the San Blas islands. Took the dinghy up the Rio Diablo, which provided jungle-like scenery. Several dugout canoes on the river, paddling upstream to get water to bring back to the Guna island just offshore. We towed a very friendly young guy a mile or so up the river, and on our way back we towed two canoes a mile or so downstream. Another paddler laughed about how the others must be too tired to paddle. Everyone seemed to be very friendly. There were lots of birds, and it was nice to hear their calls in the tall trees. The island here is much more developed than the others we’ve been to. We bought some provisions at a store and we went to dinner at a ‘restaurant’ (where we were the only customers).

I know y’all want photos. We expect to be in Colon within a week, and hopefully a good wifi connection there will bring photos shortly thereafter.