Monday, January 31, 2011

Bahia Chamela to Tenacatita

We spent four days in peaceful Bahia Chamela. It was a windy passage from La Cruz so the first day in the bay was devoted to catching up on sleep and enjoying a magnificent sunset aboard the boat. The next day we wandered around the village of Perula, entertained fellow cruisers aboard the boat and were treated to a magnificent night of stargazing. There was another boat anchored very close to us so I was up every two hours to make sure we didn't tangle as the wind and current shifted throughout the very dark and moonless night. Around 0400 I was checking our anchor and noticed the Southern Cross low in the sky to the south, then looked the other way and saw Polaris, the north star, not far above the northern horizon, with the Big Dipper circling it. In between was the Milky Way, with its billions of stars and the mighty Orion was directly overhead. I sat for some minutes in the cockpit in awe of this wonderful show.

The following day we motored out to Isla Cocinas, one of several small islands in the southern reaches of Bahia Chamela. We anchored on the northeast side of the island near a tiny sand beach that was crowded with pelicans. We landed the dinghy through the small surf and discovered pelicans nesting in the cactus. It was a wonder how a pair of pelicans could build a nest and hatch their young in the top of a 20 foot tall cactus. Later we circumnavigated the island in the dinghy, returning to the Honcho around 1600.

We left Bahia Chamela around 1000 this morning, motoring slowly out of the bay in almost no wind. Around 1100 the wind filled in, light at first, and we hoisted sails and shut down the engine. Our course took us out past the tiny cove at Paraiso and Punta Etiopia. We sailed well out to sea and as the day wore on the wind built to about 20 knots. With a following sea and wind, the Honcho surfed along at speeds of up to 10 knots, a new record for the boat. We were at the mouth of Bahia Tenacatita by 1600 and were snugly anchored in the upper bay by 1700.

Tenacatita is a lovely bay, surrounded by beatiful beaches and lush tropical vegetation. We're only 19 degrees north of the equator here and it feels like it. We'll spend a few days exploring the area, perhaps indulge in a coco loco, and  do some serious snorkeling out near Punta Hermanos.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Beneteau First 42s7

A few days ago a Beneteau 42s7 arrived on our dock in Marina La Cruz. The owner, an Aussie, bought the boat in L.A. and is sailing it home to Australia. The 42s7 is a big sister to the Honcho, so naturally I jumped at the chance to go for a sail aboard her. We left the dock around 11:00am and sailed a nine mile beat out to Punta de Mita in a breeze that started at about 6 knots and built to about 16 as we approached the point. Flying a fairly tired dacron main and 120% roller furling jib and towing a dinghy, we weren't exactly setting any speed records, but I did get a good sense of how the boat might perform if it was set up in racing trim.  Handling, as you would expect from a Farr design, is crisp and positive.  In light air the boat was sticky, but I attribute that to the small jib and the dinghy we were towing. As the breeze built to about 10 knots the boat began to come alive, and by the time we got close to the point, we were passing all the other boats in sight in spite of the tired sails and dinghy. It is very clear to me that this boat, in racing trim with a good suit of sails will be a pretty effective racer.

Beneteau 42s7
This and all other images of the 42s7 were taken from, where there are several of these boats listed for sale

Here are some dimensions and stats:
LOA:  42'- 6"
LWL: 35'- 9"
Bmax: 13'- 6"
Ballast: 5,840lb (std), 6,283 (race)
Draft: 7'- 7" (race), 5'- 11" (standard), 5'-6" (shoal)
Sail Area: 771sf (std), 845sf (race)
Displacement/Length ratio: 178
Sail Area?Disp ratio: 17.8 (std), 19.5 (race)

The boat we sailed aboard has the deep keel and standard rig. This is a good combination where there is plenty of water, but the deep draft limits where the boat can be cruised. The taller racing rig includes running backstays, which most cruisers would object to. The hull, rig and foils were designed by the Bruce Farr office while the styling and interior were done by Philippe Starck. The Honcho's styling and interior were also done by Starck, with the hull and foils by Jean Berret. While the Honcho has impressive sailing performance in view of it's cruising accommodations, the 42s7 is certainly the better performing boat for its size. Drawing from their vast experience with racing yachts, the Farr office gave the 42s7 a slippery hull with a fine entry, relatively narrow beam and fairly powerful stern sections. This hullform is more racer than cruiser and that racing pedigree makes the hull a pleasure to look at.

On deck, the similarities between the 36s7 and 42s7 are obvious. Both boats have sleek cabin trunks and very distinctive styling. In my opinion the 36 is the better looking boat with regard to the decks. Designed after the 42, it shows subtle refinements to the shape and details that I find more attractive and functional. With that said, both boats suffer from cockpits that are too small for really comfortable cruising or racing efficiency. Being from sunny California, I like big, comfortable cockpits and it would have been very easy for the designers to make the cockpits longer and more spacious, thus making them better for both cruising and racing. The cabin trunks on both boats are very wide, leaving little space to move around the decks. I understand the reasoning behind this, a wider cabin trunk means a more spacious interior, but my preference would be to go with a slightly narrower cabin and wider decks.

Large dinette

The 42s7 has a unique swimstep arrangement. It pivots out of the transom to create a large and convenient platform, and when in the stowed position, fairs into the transom. There is a lot to like about this arrangement but I would be just as happy if the builder had opted for an open transom. As you know, I had to build a swimstep on the Honcho and would have been much happier if it had been built with an open transom or at least had a serviceable swimstep molded into it. I should say, however, that within the crowded confines of the 42s7's cockpit, everything is egonomically sound and well designed. This particular boat has the mainsheet traveler mounted just forward of the helm, which is good from a sailing standpoint, but makes it difficult to lie down on the cockpit seats and take a snooze, which is very important to me. Fortunately Beneteau molded a beam into the cabin top where a mid-boom traveler can be installed, and many of the 42s7's have that arrangement. I was aboard one with a mid-boom traveler not long ago and its cockpit is definitely a friendlier place without being bisected by the traveler.

The 42s7 has the same type of cabin portlights as the 36s7. They open outward instead of inward. this has the benefit of making them better at keeping water out of the boat, but the drawback of being magnets for jibsheets. In fact, the Honcho had a broken portlight when we bought it because a jibsheet got caught on it sometime in the past. We are very careful about them when sailing.

The 42s7 has lots of space below. This is due in part to the smallish cockpit and the wide cabin trunk. The 36s7's interior layout is, in my opinion, just about perfect for a small cruiser. Having lived aboard the boat for several months now, I can say that it's as comfortable and functional as can be expected in a small boat. The same is true, for the most part, of the 42s7.  Beneteau offered both a two-cabin, and three-cabin layout in the 42s7. The three-cabin version was probably intended for the charter business, with three large double cabins and the galley strung along the port side of the main salon. This galley arrangement would work well in an apartment but is not suitable for an ocean going boat. The two cabin version has a large and well designed 'U' shaped galley aft to starboard in the main cabin. With the large dinette and tasteful design elements, it's a nice layout for living aboard and entertaining.  Sleeping arrangements are great for cruising. The owner's suite, just forward of the mast, includes a large pullman berth, lots of lockers and storage, and a private head and shower in the bow. There is also a large private stateroom aft to port, with an adjoining head. The only downside is the lack of good sea berths. Queen size berths are great at anchor, but when you're at sea, you want nice deep berths with secure lee cloths or boards.

Two cabin layout.

I occasionally hear critical remarks about the structural integrity of Beneteaus. After living aboard one, and crawling all over many of them looking for cracks and flaws, I can say that with regard to structural elements every one I've been aboard has been very well designed and built. I did reinforce the stemhead on the Honcho, but there are dozens of unreinforced 36s7's sailing around without stemhead problems. There are lots of Beneteaus out there that aren't pretty, or particularly good sailers, but I'm pretty certain they are all structurally sound.  If I had the time, I'd gladly jump aboard my friend's 42s7 and sail it across the Pacific to

Overall, I like the 42s7 quite a lot. It's big enough to be comfortable at sea, fast enough to make sailing it exciting and it's nice looking too. I plan to do some racing aboard one in a few weeks...I'm looking forward to that.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Bahia Chamela

The Honcho finally cleared the breakwater in La Cruz, bound for Bahia Chamela around 1600 on Thursday, Jan. 27th. Our course took us southwestward across Banderas Bay and around Cabo Corrientes. We had light air for the first 25 miles, then caught a strong breeze outside the cape and got a good push south. Passing Punta Ipala, we kept on going and arrived at Bahia Chamela, roughly 95 miles down the coast at 0930. We got the hook down in the lee of Punta Perula just off the village of the same name. The anchorage here affords good protection from northerly winds and swells but is exposed to southerly weather, which is more likely to occur in summer months than this time of year. We'll hang out here and explore for a couple of days before continuing on to Tenacatita. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Leaving La Cruz

Time is slipping by here in La Cruz but we've been making progress getting the boat ready to head south. The dinghy has been packed up and the outboard motor serviced and secured on it's traveling bracket. All systems energized and tested, fresh water tanks filled, the hull bottom scrubbed and weather updates downloaded. Speaking of weather, we are expecting wind and bigger surf than normal in the next couple of days, then possibly some rain next week. Until now the weather has been a continuous string of perfectly blue skies, temps in the 80's and refreshing breezes off the bay. We're ready to leave and expect to be out of Banderas Bay by Monday...or Tuesday....maybe Wednesday.

One of the most interesting aspects of our life here in La Cruz is that cruising people and boats arrive and depart daily, most are headed south, some north, and some are gathering here for what is called the Pacific Puddlejump. Then there is the contingent for whom Banderas Bay is the destination. The Puddlejump is organized by Latitude 38 magazine. It is a group of boats that depart from points on the west coast, headed for French Polynesia. A large contingent of which get together and sail from Banderas Bay to the Marquesas Islands. At around 2,900 miles, this is the most convenient jump from North America to the easternmost outpost of French Polynesia. There are currently 77 boats registered in the fleet, ranging from 33 to 65 feet long. There are other boats making roughly the same trip at roughly the same time, but choose to travel alone instead of with a group. Either way, it sounds like a lot of fun.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Panama Retrospective

Caught a flight out of Bocas Town to Panama City on Monday. Went to the Miraflores locks where there is an excellent museum with exhibits showing the struggle to build the canal, how it works, its impact on Panama and global commerce along with plans for the canal expansion project. The canal runs in a roughly north-south direction. The Atlantic terminus at Colon is actually to the northwest of the Pacific terminus at Panama City. The canal is approximately 88 kilometers from end to end and it takes about 8 hours for a ship make that passage. The Panama Canal was officially opened on August 15th, 1914. Ownership of the canal was transferred from the United States to the Republic of Panama on December 31, 1999.

 In the Honcho's home port of Long Beach we are accustomed to seeing very large container ships in the harbor. Those ships are too large to transit the canal, and the trend is toward more of these larger vessels. The Panama Canal Authority recognized the need to expand the canal's capacity to accommodate these ships, thus the new enlarged locks, which I believe are scheduled to be opened in 2014.

Northbound ship moving out of the lower locks at Miraflores

Here are some interesting stats:
Containers are essentially tractor trailer bodies. They come in a variety of sizes, but are measured in "twenty foot equivalents" (TEU).
The largest container ships currently in service can carry more than 15,000 TEU.
The current locks can handle ships of up to 5,000 TEU capacity (965 feet long, 106 feet wide).
The new canal locks will handle ships of up to 12,000 TEU capacity (1,200 feet long, 160 feet wide).
The busiest container port in the world is Singapore.
Seven of the top ten busiest container ports in the world are located in China.
Los Angeles and Long Beach are ranked 16th and 18th respectively.
The top three US ports (L.A., Long Beach, New York) combined handled approximately 16,500,000 TEU in 2009. Shanghai alone handled 25,000,000 TEU in the same period.
Surprised? I was too.

45 foot cruising catamaran transiting the lower locks at Miraflores
We arrived back in La Cruz to find all well with the Honcho. Over the next few days we'll reprovision, refuel and prepare for sailing again, then head out around Cabo Corrientes, the southern boundary of Banderas Bay and on to points south.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Leopard 42

The days flew by in Bocas del Toro. We toured the archipelago, swam, partied, played Mexican Train, and generally relaxed aboard Salida, our hosts' fabulous Leopard 42 catamaran. Salida is a very large boat for a 42 footer. It is a cruising cat that I believe was originally designed for the Caribbean charter trade. The builder, Robertson and Caine of South Africa also produced an "Owner's Version" as well. The difference between the two is that the charter version has four sleeping cabins and the owner's version has only three, with the starboard hull devoted entirely to quarters for the owner. Salida is the latter. Here is a layout of the accommodations.

Leopard 42 Layout
 In this view you can see that the starboard hull includes a large sleeping cabin, desk, lots of closet and storage space, and a large head with separate shower stall. The port hull is devoted to smaller cabins, each with its own head. I was impressed with the amount of living space inside the boat. On deck, the cockpit includes seating for 6 in a large and comfortable dinette as well as plenty of room to actually sail the boat. Fully covered by a fiberglass hardtop, the cockpit is an extension of the living space. In Bocas, where it is always plenty warm, we took all our meals around the outdoor dining table.  The main cabin includes a nav station, dinette and a very complete galley. Aboard Salida, there was always something delicious coming from the galley thanks to Liz's culinary skills. For a couple who lives aboard and occasionally entertains overnight guests, this boat is hard to beat. We were very comfortable aboard the Salida. It made me wish the Honcho was a bit bigger.

Salida is well set up for shorthanded cruising, with roller furling and a stackpack mainsail. Some features I especially like are the electric winches on the cabin top, the very simple and efficient dinghy davits and the stout ground tackle system. Salida is equipped with an 80 pound Rocna anchor and I was very interested to see how it performs compared with the Manson unit that we have aboard the Honcho. We anchored and weighed several times and I even snorkeled over the anchor to see exactly how it set in sand and coral. It appears to me that both anchors work well and the spade concept used by both is an improvement over plows and Deltas that are favored by many.

Salida at Starfish Cove

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bocas del Toro

We left the city of David at 0700. Our destination, Almirante, lay about 150 miles north, on the Caribbean coast of Panama. To get there we first traveled on a rough two lane road through the village of Gualaca, about 20 miles from David. Gualaca is at about 1000 feet elevation and is cooler than the sweltering coast. The road then took us up through the Cordillera Central, the high mountains that form the backbone of Central America. As we climbed higher toward the continental divide, cattle ranches gave way to highland rainforest. Traveling slowly over and around washouts and potholes, we wound our way up through fog and dripping rainforest to the pass, which I estimate to be at roughly 5000 feet elevation. Descending over a series of tight switchbacks on the northern slope of the mountains we passed La Fortuna reservoir at about 3000 feet elevation. This beautiful lake was formed when a dam was built in 1984, bringing hydroelectric power to the region. The Caribbean side of Panama gets more rainfall than the Pacific side and we rolled past banana and coconut plantations while the rain came down, sometimes in torrents, sometimes in drizzles on the way to Almirante.
Waterfront in Almirante

All along the road we saw people dressed for the holiday waiting for the bus to Almirante. When we got there, throngs of people, nearly all black or mestizo, were crowded around the water taxi terminal trying to get a ride to one island or another before dark. After an hour’s wait we managed to get aboard a water taxi to Bocas town. With the 25 foot boat loaded down with about 35 people and their bags, the overloaded launch motored out of the tiny harbor and gathered speed for the ten mile trip to Bocas Town where we were met by our friends, Craig and Liz. We celebrated our arrival there with a beer at a waterfront cafĂ© and then hired a small boat to take us the last few miles to Isla Bastimento, where the Red Frog Marina is located. Craig and Liz have been living here aboard their 42 foot catamaran, Salida, for the last four months.

Red Frog marina, named for the tiny red frogs that are native to the area, is located in a small cove on the northwest side of the island. It’s part of a small resort that includes a hostel, cabins for rent and an outdoor bar on the beach. The beach is on the other side of the island, facing the open Caribbean Sea and is well known to surfers who come here from around the world to surf the many good breaks on Bastimento and other islands that make up this part of the Panamanian coast. The surf wasn’t great when we got there but we had a good time bodysurfing and then hanging out at the beachfront bar afterward.
The Pizza Oven at Rana Azul
The next day we sailed over to an area called Tierra Oscura (the Dark Lands in Spanish) and anchored in a cove known as Rana Azul (Blue Frog). There we met an Austrian named Josef who came to this place a few years ago with his wife, Maria, and built a tiny bar/restaurant on the edge of the jungle to serve the occasional sailors and eco-tourists that manage to find the place. They had sailed all over the world aboard their 40 foot sailboat, and decided to settle in this lonely but strikingly beautiful little spot. Their specialty is pizza baked in an outdoor charcoal fired earthen oven and Panamanian Mojitos. Since there are no roads to this place they had to bring everything in by boat, including a rickety old karaoke machine. Many a sailor has made a fool of him- or herself with that rusty mike-with-the-bad-connections in his hand, us included.
In the morning we upped the anchor and sailed for Starfish Cove on Isla Colon, where the snorkeling was fabulous. Later we took the dinghy around the point and halfway up the Bocas del Drago channel to a beachfront restaurant called Yarisnoris. Here we found tourists, lots of them. All around us at the restaurant we heard tourists speaking French, German and Italian along with English and Spanish. The locals of this area speak Guari Guari, which is a hybrid of Jamaican English, Spanish and Guaymi. Guaymi is name of the indigenous natives of this part of Panama.   Back when the Trans Isthmus railroad, and later the canal, was built, the French and American contractors imported laborers from Jamaica, Barbados, and even China, to work on those projects. Intermarriage among these groups as well as the native population has resulted in a rich cultural history and linguistic patois that is fascinating to hear.

From Starfish Cove we sailed for Bocas Town and anchored outside the harbor. Here we could see the local fishermen paddling dugout canoes out to fish the reefs and shoals that abound in this area. I first saw a dugout in Almirante and thought that perhaps the locals made them for tourists, of which there are very few in that town. But, no, they are working boats used every day by the local fishermen. I looked closely at a few of them and found them to be finely crafted vessels carved from a single log. It is not uncommon to see a man with wife and a kid or two
Native Dugout Canoe
paddling a dugout to or from Bocas town. The other boat that the natives use is the fiberglass panga powered by an outboard. Strong, fast and utilitarian, pangas are long and narrow open boats that are used for cargo, fishing, water taxis and just about everything else. There are dozens of small islands in the Bocas del Toro area and very few roads, so people travel everywhere by boat.
The food here is what I would call a uniquely eclectic blend of creole, Carib, Panamanian, European and American. I love the spice and tang of the local cuisine. The architecture along the waterfront and main streets is also a blend of Caribbean, Latin and European styles, all painted in bright colors. Located just nine degrees north of the equator, Bocas is out of the hurricane zone and the weather is what I call equatorial; Hot and sunny most of the time except when it’s hot and rainy. Humidity also stays near a hundred percent, so we swim or snorkel off the back of the boat every day.
Red Frog Beach, Isla Bastimento