welcome to our blog!

This blog tells the story of our 22-month sailing journey from Oakland, California, to Bristol, Rhode Island, aboard our beloved Bristol 32 sailboat, Ute. Please feel free to browse through the archives (partway down the sidebar to your left) to see pics and read stories of our adventures in North America and Central America . (Sorry the first 3 months of the trip are missing - they vanished somewhere in an internet cafe in Mexico - but all you're missing is CA, Baja and Western Mex).

If you're trying to track us down now that we're landlubbers, try us at uteatlarge at yahoo dot com. Thanks!

Friday, June 30, 2006

here's the tranny back where it belongs..now we just have to align the engine to within 5/1,000ths of an inch of total alignment. yikes.

here's a cool aerial shot of Shelter Bay (I didn't take this but someday I might....I recently decided I need to take flying lessons at some point in my life)

this is what happens to boats when their tranny goes out in Panama and they languish too long...

that's little Ute down there at the dinghy dock.....

nice to have a ballroom size loft to spread out in.....

can you spot the crocodile in this picture?

slowly but surely it went together....now I can tell you how it all works if you ever want to know...so cool! (of course knowing the people that read this blog you probably all know this stuff already)

the drawings we made when we took it all apart came in mighty handy...

Joe's fantastic shop

Pedro Miguel Boat Club

still at it

Hey everybody, we’re back at home sweet home in Shelter Bay….nd the A key is missing on our lptop so you’ll hve to ber with me if there re some A’s missing in this pst! I can get A’s but I have to push hard where the button used to be. Anyway….we have the tranny back nd are busy trying to align the engine back on its mounts.

We spent all day Mondy at Joe’s shop putting the monster back together…and, oddly enough, I think it turned out to be one of my favorite days of the entire trip. Running around Panama and trying to take care of business and fix things is allowing us to get to know a Panama that most tourists don’t get to see. The other countries we’ve experienced on this trip have all been captivating in their own right, but Panama is the only place so far that I keep finding myself saying, “I could live here”. We are loving it!

Joe’s shop is out at the Pedro Miguel Boat Club, right next to the Pedro Miguel locks on the Canal. Until 2003, PMBC was a thriving, bustling marina – in the past, boats were allowed to transit as far as Pedro Miguel, stay as long as they wished in this delightful enclave, and then transit the rest of the canal. As part of the Panamnian tkeover the boat club has been shut down indefinitely and its customers evicted. It’s a cryin’ shame if you ask me – what a unique spot! I feel in love with it in a heartbeat. If it were still an operating marina I would be lobbying Allen heavily for us to move here and manage it, but you can bet there would be a lot of folks vying for tht job if it were avilable. Rumor has it that the government was thinking about shutting down the club, and the deal was sealed one night when a drunk American got tired of being rocked by the tug wakes (guess what, buddy, don’t dock next to the Canal then!) and shot off a flare gun in protest. The flare landed on an enormous LPG tanker and evidently came this close to blowing up the entire country. Had the gas cargo ignited, experts said, all the air would have been sucked out of most of Panama nd everyone would have died in at least a 300 mile radius. Ah, my hearts bursts with patriotism. Nice work, asshole.

Anyway, back to the task at hand. Putting the tranny back together was a trip….I learned a lot. It’s so satisfying to know what happens when we move the shift lever and go a different direction (up until a week ago my understanding of the transmission was just above the hamsters running in wheels level). A byproduct of this mechanical journey is my newfound ability to speak engine in two languages. I can now say things in Spanish that, eight months ago, I couldn’t identify in English. A great learning experience all around….

After about 8 hours nd a couple of small setbacks in the ressembly process we proudly hefted our tranny our of Joe’s shop. Then it was back to Panama City for one more night so we could shop for sewing stuff (ugh). I spend nearly every day in the second floor of the marina clubhouse swearing and sweating, and, very occasionally, successfully stitching two pieces of fabric together. The loft is very notably NOT air conditioned and has all the mod cons of Purgatory. The views are magnificent, though – the Canal to the east, critter-filled jungle to the west, the Caribbean to the north, and little ol’ Ute tied up at the dock below. Our boat is so small tht, although the marina doesn’t actually have a slip availble for us, we’re parked at the wee wooden dock they use to tie up their little runabout. It’s pretty funny. Last week there was a boat in here whose dingy was literally the size of our boat. It’s nice having our own dock…and it’s tht much closer to the disco bathtubs.

So now that the tranny is back in one piece AND attched to the engine, the next step is to get the engine back on its mounts nd realigned so we can see if the much-lauded new part even works or not. Our fingers are stuck in the crossed position.

IF everything goes back together we’ll probably try and get out of here in about 2 weeks. We decided that, as long as we’re stuck here for a little while, we might as well do all the boat projects we’ve been meaning to do for the last 6 months. Meaning, we’ll try and do all of them, and only end up scratching 3 or 4 things off the list, but it’s better than nothing. We’re paying a pretty penny to stay here – more than we ever paid in the Bay Area! – so we’re doing our best to take advantage of the services availble nd do all the stuff that’s difficult or impossible to accomplish on the hook.

Back to work…more soon. CC

rainy season in the tropics offers humidity, rain, heat, mildew and pestilence of biblical proportions and ferocity.....the newest members of Team Redundancy Team are about 20 geckoes living aboard. We accept them warmly on the condition that they continue eating the biting bugs that hound us night and day....

Sunday, June 25, 2006

a wee update

hi everybody! we´re in panama city ...again....at our fave dive hotel. hey, we may be broke and broken down, but that doesn´t mean we can´t enjoy the hell out of TV, square beds, air conditioning, a pool, and a distinct lack of mosquitoes....anyway...we linehandled on a friends´ boat to get here. much prettier than the bus, plus we got fed on the way here, got to see the canal again (our first atlantic-pacific transit), and had a great time. the canal is so beautiful!

tomorrow we´ll rise bright and early to meet Joe the Mechanic, and, if luck is on our side, the tranny part will be ready and will be up to snuff this time, and if it is we´ll scoot over to his shop at Pedro Miguel locks (so cool!) to reassemble our transmission. if everything goes together okay, we´ll take the tranny back to shelter bay. then we´ll find out if the new part actually works, after we spend a day or two reinstalling the transmission. if it works, then we´ll attempt to figure out if that was the main problem in the first place.

(if none of this makes any sense, here is an analogy: tomorrow morning we´ll get up, and if our horoscope is favorable and all the planets are properly aligned and we win the lottery, we will have the privilege of building a working space shuttle out of toilet paper rolls and popsicle sticks, and we will attempt a moon landing, all on a $7 budget. except it will actually be way more fun than it sounds, because we are in Panama.).

we´ll probably stay in shelter bay for at least another 2 weeks or so because we have run up a backlog on canvas projects! no kidding, we spend every waking hour in shelter bay at the sewing machine (well except for daily volleyball from 2:30-3:30 of course). it´s a steep learning curve. suffice to say it is paying our rent. well, on the days we don´t put zippers in backwards. more on that later.

for now, thanks everybody for helping us out with our engine trouble and we´ll post more soon!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Funny Monkeys

Wanna see what happens when Craig met these Funny Monkeys? Have a gander at these.


Funny Monkeys.

(Cora needs to make the following disclaimer: at no point did we intend to feed the monkeys. The "I don't have any monkey food" comment was just me absentmindedly trying to deter the monkeys from harassing us. We had just landed on the beach and I had just given my cohorts a stern lecture about how if we left the wildlife alone, they would mind their own business. guess not. turns out these had been pet monkeys at some point. Since I reamed out one of our traveling companions in Costa Rica for wanting to feed the monkeys, I didn't want there to be any confusion on this point! Needless to say Craig will not be taking my advice about wildlife for while.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Transmission pics

Here are some pictures of the exploded view of our transmission. We had to email ZF North America to get the correct model and then search the web to get this exploded view. This is the actual state the tranny is in right now. Also some pictures of it in the flesh....

Sunday, June 18, 2006

one step forward, two steps back..

so, no luck yet on the tranny. many thanks to that handful of sweet people who have asked for updates...

allen just spent two nights in panama city waiting for the part to be ready. mind you they told us it would be ready thursday. so he went to the city on friday thinking that was a safe bet....but it wasn't ready until yesterday afternoon.....at which point Joe the Mechanic looked at it and concluded it was not finely machined enough, so he's going to take it back to the shop Monday and see it they can redo it......this is not so fun. every night that we're paying to have the boat in a marina and paying for a hotel room too just makes us shake our heads and wonder what the hell we're gonna do. not to mention paying the mechanic which we haven't thought through yet. So in the last three days we basically accomplished nothing while spending money in the city.

if they can't get the part machined to a satisfactory state of precision then things will get even more complicated, as that would mean ordering a replacement....and evidently our transmission is so old and obscure that even the guys at the company that manufactured it can't identify the model despite the barrage of photos and serial numbers we've e-mailed to them. yikes. and the coupler itself was redone at some point over the years so it's not a standard thing we can order.

ah, the joys of yacht ownership......

Friday, June 16, 2006

Thanks Gabby for the great Canal crew shot!!

back in Shelter Bay after all....

Since leaving for the San Blas Islands two and a half weeks ago, we have:

1. Swum in that amazing turquoise Caribbean water you thought only existed in screensavers
2. Navigated our first reef passage
3. Hosted an amazing pair of friends, Craig and Evvy, for a week and a half!
4. Been engulfed by a swarm of 10,000 bees
5. Seen Craig attacked by vicious territorial feral monkeys (don’t worry, no bites)
6. Heard a sickly grinding/rattling noise as our transmission crapped out
7. Crossed some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes under sail power only in no wind (as a result of Item #6)
8. Flown Ute’s spinnaker for the first time ever
9. Seen some breathtakingly beautiful coastline!
10. Taken our transmission completely apart on the tailgate of a pickup in a dirty parking lot in Panama City

One thing we notably didn’t do is reach the San Blas islands. No matter, though, as we always say, the only sure thing about our plans is that they’ll likely change….We left here (Shelter Bay) on a dreary rainy day and discovered that a month lying fallow in the Canal Zone had turned us back into beginners…..we spent a couple hours trying to remember how to sail while turning green from the adjustment to Caribbean wave patterns. Of the many things I’ve learned on this trip so far, one is that you could go sailing every day for years and still go out one day and encounter a synergy of wind, current, and wave pattern that feels new. And, occasionally, nauseating. Our discomfort passed quickly though and we pulled into Portobelo without incident.

Portobelo is a great little colonial town, tucked into a beautiful bay just 12 miles east of the north end of the Canal. While Colon may be the murder and mayhem capital of Central America, you luckily don’t have to put it too far to your stern to find warm, friendly Panama again. Every day we spend in this leafy, curvy country, I love it more!

After a few mellow nights in Portobelo, and a toast to our inaugural trip into Caribbean waters, we moved up the coast to Isla Linton. (here’s a map http://www.fallingrain.com/world/PM/4/Linton.html if you’re following along). We still had a good four days until Craig and Evvy were scheduled to land in Panama City, and just 40 more miles to cover to meet them in El Porvenir in the San Blas, so we figured we could take our time and check out Isla Linton and Isla Grande…..

Our entrance to the Linton anchorage was out first real reef passage, and although it is a fairly innocuous one as they go, we still held our collective breath as we saw jagged coral heads pass on either side of the hull. We were thrilled to find that our GPS waypoints jived with our new charts, as the alternative can get ugly fast. We toodled into the anchorage unscathed, dropped the hook, and put the boat in reverse to set it, only to hear an unsettling rattling clanking grinding noise which accompanied an equally unsettling lack of reverse movement. The anchor was already pretty well set, luckily, but we still had a pretty powerful Oh Shit! moment.

“Oh shit, it’s the transmission”, Allen yelled. “Now we are TOTALLY F$*#&ED!”

A little backstory here: Allen has heartily declared our T.F. status at least 17 times in the last 8 months. It is getting to be a bit of a joke amongst our friends. I am more prone to the “listen, if we still have all of our major body parts and are not unequivocally dying of an incurable disease, anything else is negotiable” approach.

I had to give him a little credit on this one, though. It was a downer to hear this noise and immediately know the following things: A) there was no way in hell we would be in San Blas to meet Craig and Evvy at the sunny end of a flight they’d already purchased tickets for, B) we were not going to see the San Blas for awhile, and C) the phrase “transmission went out” to boaters is often synonymous with fun ideas like “lifted their engine out using only coconuts and a leatherman” and “maybe we could sell our organs on Ebay to pay for the part.”

But there was no lack of good news, considering…..we were just one day’s chicken-bus travel from Panama City, which is the best place to fix boat stuff between here and San Diego. Craig and Evvy are boat people and would understand. Our anchor was set and we and the boat were all safe. Isla Linton and environs are absolutely gorgeous. And we had no schedule of deadlines of our own, since we have from now ‘til November to screw around in Panama. Of course, we’re broke, but that’s such old news at this point we don’t really worry about it anymore…

So after two sweaty days of screwing around with the engine and trying to diagnose the issue with the generous help of two neighbors (thanks again Tumbleweed and Paradiso!) we found ourselves on a bus at dawn, toting a change of clothes of dubious cleanliness, a propane tank (might as well get it filled as long as we’re headed for the bright-lights-big-city), and part of our transmission coupler. We figured we’d escort Craig and Evvy to the new and improved rendezvous point and at the same time establish contact with the marine diesel cognoscenti of Panama City.

Craig and Evvy touched ground right on time and by the time they arrived at their hotel where we were waiting, we’d even rustled up Billy, who hadn’t yet left for Panama City, and we had plenty of cold beer at the ready. And for the second time in a month we got to experience the joy of not only seeing old friends but also having another Christmas Morning as we opened all the goodies they’d brought us from home: cheese, bourbon, new movies, new music, boat gear, care packages from friends and family, and more. Thanks again C&E! You really went above and beyond….

We spent the next day visiting the old colonial part of Panama City and the Canal museum while simultaneously getting screwed by an incompetent machine shop. Long story short we tried a quick fix for the transmission that was a long shot anyway, made more so by leaving it in the hands of this dude who couldn’t machine his way out of a bowl. Oh well. That was kind of a pisser at the time but it’s already funny in retrospect. What can you do….

The next day we said goodbye to Bill AGAIN and the four of us made the multi-vehicle trek back to Linton. We were anxious to get back to the boat as this (2 nights) was the longest we’d been away from it in 8 months. Funny that we’re so far away from home in the one sense, and yet we haven’t left our house for more than 14 hours at a stretch since September.

Craig and Evvy were incredibly good sports about the change of plans. Of course we’ve grown accustomed to being surrounded by turquoise water, lush jungle, howler monkeys, and fuzzy green islands, but they assured us that it was no less of a destination for not being in the San Blas. I guess I see their point. And it was a really cool spot.

We had a fantastic week of swimming off the boat, snorkeling, exploring the islands near Linton, and just hanging out and catching up. Isla Grande, a relatively touristy but still pretty mellow island, was about an hour's row away, so that was fun. Craig did get attacked by feral spider monkeys at Bad Monkey Beach, but I promised I’d let him tell that story. Stay tuned for his installment. We have to figure out a way to put a link to the monkey attack video here on the blog. Danny, can we put video on your site and link it? let us know….

Towards the end of the week the decision was made that the four of us would sail Ute back to Shelter Bay, thus letting Craig and Evvy get some sailing in while safely returning Ute to a place that we could work with a mechanic and safely pull the engine. In this season of variable winds (the trusty rusty NE Caribbean trades take time off in the summer months), we were a bit nervous about crossing the Canal without the help of a motor, but it also sounded like a fun challenge. It was only about a 30 mile trip door to door but we spread it over two days just to make sure we would arrive here in full daylight. We stopped in Portobelo for a night since it was already familiar and seemed like a relatively easy place to sail on and off an anchor. It turned out to be a great stop – we stuffed ourselves on pizza at a bar run by a Fijian/French Canadian couple. It’s a small town, but not your average Panamanian small town…it was, for most of the 17th and 18th centuries, the main shipping port for all of the New World riches shipped back to Spain….all that Inca gold, Bolivian silver, Venezuelan emeralds, you name it. Legend has it that there were times that so much gold and silver came through town that the customs house was full to the ceilings and gold ingots spilled out into the streets It was sacked and burned by Henry Morgan at least twice. There are crumbling, mossy forts and cannons all around. Evvy commented, “It’s just like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland” and we had to laugh that that was our point of reference. (In her defense, we did actually spot a guy in a striped shirt rocking back and forth on a keg and drinking rum). It was actually pretty exciting and hair-raising to see the real thing, even if the cannons cooled off for the last time a couple hundred years ago. The north coast of Panama is peppered with pirate hotspots and relics of Spanish main hotspots…I see our summer filled with fort-frolicking and cannon-cavorting. (when and if we have an operational engine, of course. One thing at a time).

Leaving Portobelo, we had just 16 miles to cover to reach Shelter Bay. It was a brilliant sail. Craig, aka Spinnaker Man, helped us bust out the kite, allowing us to ghost along at a couple knots in virtually no wind for most of the morning. Great experience for us, and very picturesque sailing to boot. No stinky loud engine to bring us down! The wind picked up after noon, and we found ourselves cruising towards the Colon breakwater at an easy 5+ knots, only to have to the wind die completely at the precise moment we found ourselves smack in the middle of the breakwater entrance, and thus right in the path of all ships coming to and from the Panama Canal. Interesting. No need to panic though… Spinnaker Man and crew saved the day again, and we drifted out of the shipping lanes without too many new grey hairs.Craig and Evvy had just enough time to experience disco showers and oropendolas before we had to bustle them off for Panama City last Sunday morning.

We spent the rest of Sunday lifting our engine partway out of the boat with some rotting 4X4’s and lots of rope. Our blood, sweat and tears paid off when we were holding the transmission in hand at the end of the day. Joe, our new mechanic and my new hero, was nice enough to let us ride into Panama City with him late that night…..what a fun and funny treat to be speeding through the night along the back roads of Panama in an old Ford pickup with a farmer-turned-diesel-mechanic from Missouri, dodging agoutis and coconuts, driving over the Gatun locks, wondering if the McDonald’s by the highway would still be open, talking transmissions and boats and critters and more as the jungle pressed in on both sides. Joe’s lived here for 15 years and is married to a Panamanian, and has been working on marine engines for about a hundred years, so we feel pretty lucky to have found him.

This week has been a blur of traveling back and forth to Panama City – a trip of only about 40 miles, but it requires an overnight stay in PC because being in Colon after dark on the way back is not an option – and working on the transmission. The upshot is that Allen is, as I write this, picking up the new part we had made, and once we get the new part installed, and the transmission reassembled, and get it put back in the boat, and reinstall all the things we had to take out to get to the transmission, and realign the engine, we’ll find out if it works or not. phew….should be fun.

In the meantime it’s really nice to be back at Shelter Bay where the livin’ is easy. pricey…but easy. Jungle trails all around, volleyball every afternoon, showers, baths, ice machine, wi-fi. And more canvas jobs, which will help offset the rent, especially if I actually start doing them instead of screwing around online all day…….

more Portobelo....

coming into Portobelo wing-and-wing...

Lady McDonna

This shot was taken in Isla Grande's main square. Note the McDonald's Playplace flanking the Blessed Virgin (you might have to click on the photo to actually see Ronald). Here is a translation of a chat with a local on the topic:

CC: So....how did the McDonald's play equipment end up here if there's no McDonald's restaurant? [because whether I hate it or not, which I do, most people have heard of McDonald's, at least this close to Panama City]

Local: no what restaurant?

CC: No McDonald's restaurant.

Local [confused]: I don't know this restaurant. Is it from your city in the United States? Do they serve typical food?

CC: Ummm...kind of. They serve beef. um..hamburgers.

Local: I have never been to the United States, so I don't know that restaurant. If you want a hamburger, there are some hamburgers on the island.

CC: Mmmm, thanks very much. Perhaps I'll have a hamburger for lunch. See you later.

[Score one for our team! never heard of McDonald's! awesome.]

the famous "Black Jesus with Pelican" statue of Isla Grande...
and the lesser known "Black Jesus Restroom" of Portobelo

those bumpy islands in the distance are the Farallons....and much like "our" Farallons in California they are a a rugged, rocky home to all kinds of cool seabirds.

isla grande...