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Panama

Getting ready to cross the Pacific Ocean

April, 12, 1989

We are just about ready to leave for the South Pacific. Some of our stay has been fun and games, such as the dinners we have been invited to, the pot lucks at the yacht club, helping a boat transit the canal, relaxing aboard and listening to our compact disk player. But there has been a lot or work, too. We hauled the boat out of the water to paint the bottom and sides, and repaint the boat. That took about a week of having to climb the ladder down to work on the boat and up to sleep. The boat sat at a 10 degree angle and walking and sleeping was an uphill experience! We couldn’t use the sink or head (we can’t have things run out of the boat) so we had to climb down and use the club bathrooms for basic functions. At night I had to use a bucket. Cooking was impossible without using the sink, so we had to eat all of our meals at the restaurant. Luckily the lunch menu included an inexpensive special each week day. We hired a Panamanian to help us but, we did most or the work.

Gatun Locks looking toward Colon, Panama After we put the boat back into the water, the real work began. We hauled lots of things out of the boat and filled our club locker top to bottom. Then we moved everything out of the storage spaces we have in the fo’c’le and lazarette (front and back part of the boat), including all the floor boards for these areas, and hosed and scrubbed them down. The floor boards were scrubbed, sanded and varnished. That took two days. Everything in the living areas of the boat was removed and put in the fo’c’le and lazarette and we scrubbed down that part of the boat. Then we brush-painted and spray-painted all the walls (bulkheads) and ceilings and corners, and sanded and varnished all the natural woodwork, including the ladder and floor-boards. That took over a week. All of this time, we were "living aboard." Each morning I would literally strip the bed. I stripped the linen, removed the foam bed sections end put them in the fo’c’le. Every evening the process was reversed. In the meantime we worked, did the wash and cooked and ate meals. It was quite a mess, as you can well imagine. When we finally got the floor boards back in and put the bed together for the last time, it was such a relief. We still haven’t gotten everything out of the locker, but we’re getting there. Things are shaping up.

This week we have been tackling the outside. We painted the railing around the boat, the mast, all the trim, and the cabin top and sides. We painted the hatch covers and the areas around the hatches and ports. The cockpit area will have to wait until we get more paint. We can’t find the kind we need here—acrylic latex. The paint we are using now is what we bought when we were in the states this time. Inside paint we bought locally. It is so nice to be finished with the messy part of getting the boat ready. Some of the things we did haven’t been done since the boat was launched, like varnishing the inside.

While all of this was going on, Bob was fixing things, adjusting the tiller, altering the boom rest, etc. The major change was to take an area near the galley that was used as a catch-all shelf and turn it into a "hanging locker" (closet) complete with vented door. We can now hang up our dress clothes rather than keeping them folded and wrapped in the storage area behind the couch and having to drag out the iron whenever we want to wear something besides shorts and jeans.

I dug out the sewing machine and made my own changes. I made some canvas shoe bags for the hanging locker. Some pockets hold shoes; others, slips and nylons. The shoe bag for the head holds combs and brushes, our "shower bags" (soap dish, shampoo, razor comb) for when we use the showers at the club, deodorant, nail things, extra tooth paste, etc. Shoe bags are very handy items on a boat. I cut and hemmed several pair of jeans to make shorts and made five blouses and two dresses with material I bought locally and in the Virgin Islands. I also went to Fort Davis and Fort Gulick to visit with teaching friends.

Bob with his computer below deck. Our new interest now is the lap top computer Bob bought while he was in the states in February. He is working on Pascal, a computer language he has always been interested in learning. He is also working on a book about building the Hunky-Dory. The other day he went back to the Industrial Division to help the guy who took his place there. He is having some problems programming the computer. I am more interested in the fact that we can hook up the computer to our printer—we decided not to store it along with our other computer items. Now I can write long letters to everyone instead of laboriously writing them out individually and not being able to tell everything I want to because of lack of space, time and energy. I have a standard typewriter on board that I am using for my personal log. I use it everyday to record things that we do or see or learn, random thoughts, poetry when the mood strikes, feelings and fantasies and desires. But the computer I’ll use to communicate with others, so expect more extensive information from now on.

Panama Canal coworker George Stone Last weekend, we took some people sailing—a kind of "thank you" for inviting us to dinner or for the special favors they have granted while we have been here this time. It was the first time we have been sailing since January,

What is left to do now? We have to get most of our things back on board. We have decided to keep our locker as well as our membership at the club so we have a home port when we’re through cruising the Pacific. The fees are very low and we feel it is worth it. So, some things will remain—our refrigerator that runs on 110, some books we don’t want to keep on the boat, etc. After we decide what goes and what stays, we have to restock with food, paper products, etc. An agent from the Free Zone is taking us there to see what is available so we can make the necessary arrangements. We have to stock up for three months or more. Since we don’t travel with refrigeration, we buy mostly canned goods. Fresh foods that last a while include onions, potatoes, cabbage, lemons, lime, and garlic. We also buy other fresh fruits and vegetables and use them up quickly before they go bad. I grow my own sprouts to add to the fresh vegetables. I also bake my own bread aboard using a pressure cooker because we don’t have an oven. English muffins are easier so I make them more often.

Panama Canal pilots that took us through the canal.While the shopping is going on, we have to go to the French Embassy in Panama City to get visas for French Polynesia. We have to make arrangements to transit the canal and get line handlers ready for the trip. We have to go to the port office and immigration to officially clear out of Panama. We have to secure everything so it stays put when we are underway. We still have to find a home for our cat, Windy. Hopefully the journalist who is coming later this week, a friend of a friend, will take our lovable feline.

After we transit, we’ll refuel and take on more water and then we’ll head West toward the Marquesas, a journey of 5580 miles that will take us about 55 days, without sight of land. From there we go to Tahiti in time for their yearly celebration that coincides with Bastille Day in France, July 14. So we want to leave soon to avoid rushing from place to place. We’ll play the rest of our trip by ear and spend the winter (their summer) in New Zealand or Fiji. During that time of year, their typhoons come (similar to our hurricanes) and we don’t want to get caught in unprotected waters. So expect Christmas cards from that area.

Two things to make clear about this trip, as well as explain the problems we have had in the past: One is with mail. Please use our Seattle forwarding address. When we get to a port, we call our mail service. They collect all of the mail waiting for us and forward it to whatever address we tell them. This his worked out very well. So, don’t worry if your letters aren’t answered quickly. I answer them as soon as I get them, sometimes two months after you write them, but they eventually get read and answered.

The second matter is phone calls. When we finally get to a port we have to find a phone. Sometimes this isn’t easy. Usually it is a public phone on a busy street corner. Just getting to the phone can be a problem. We have to climb into our dinghy and motor ashore, since we rarely tie up at a dock. (Docking fees are by the foot per day and can run into a lot of money, anchoring is free). In the Virgin Islands, just getting to town to use the phone usually meant a 10 minute trip in open water around an island. The hour can be a problem especially if several time zones are involved. When everything is perfect, Bob calls his mother or brother and I call my mother or daughter. Word is passed along from there. Post cards are sent as quickly as possible to everyone concerned. Then we can sit back and wait for the mail to arrive from Seattle.

One problem we are having in Panama is with money. The banks don’t want to cash traveler’s checks and we can’t have money wired down here for fear of ever getting it out of the bank it is wired to. Luckily, we have friends at Pan Canal who cash our personal checks for us through the Pan Canal treasury office. They have to put their credit on the line for us in case something bounces, which we’d never allow to happen. Everywhere else, we’ve been able to cash traveler’s checks and have had our bank in Virginia wire money to a local bank with no problem. Just here. Well, that will change when we leave. One nice thing about cruising: once we have the boat stocked with food and water and fuel, we can go for months if necessary and never have to spend a cent.

Bob at tiller of Hunky-Dory somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.Cruising? What can I say? It’s wonderful. You’re free to come and go and stay as long as you wish. You meet interesting people everywhere you anchor, international people, people who have been there and have something interesting to say, even if it’s only about their last passage. You see strange sights, lovely sights, frightening sights, fantastic sunsets, quiet dawns, majestic islands; the sea when it’s glassy calm or angry froth, when the colors change from indigo in mid-ocean to aquamarine in 50 feet of Caribbean water; when you can see deep into the clear waters and make out coral and other sea life, where the sea life comes to the surface and meets you, flying fish and porpoises, whales and squid, jelly fish and Portugese Man-’o-war. You see the weather change from dead calm to gale force wind. You work the sails, watch the compass, check the winds, watch the waves, read and write and dream. But mostly you find out that you have the ability to cope with your surroundings. In one of the books I read recently, the author summed it up nicely: "Capacity for survival may be the ability to be changed by environment."

So, off we go to make Bob’s dream a reality: to build a boat and cruise the Pacific. We’ll keep in touch.

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