The Vilisar Times

The life and times of Ronald and Kathleen and our voyages aboard S/V Vilisar, a 34.5-foot wooden Wm-Atkin-designed sailing cutter launched in Victoria, BC, Canada, in 1974. Since we moved aboard in 2001 Vilisar has been to Alaska, British Columbia, California, Mexico, The Galapagos and mainland Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Balboa Yacht Club, Balboa, Panamá, Saturday, July 04, 2009

Ever since the water tanks under main cabin berths ran dry about Thursday or Friday last week, we have stopped pumping bilge water. The good news we deduce from this is that we are not taking water through a sprung plank underwater. From diving with a mask and snorkel, we can see that there is frayed wood on the wormshoe and there was a curious black line along one of the seams forward where the stem curves up from the keel. But, heading over today from Isla Taboga, my mind is still tense with what awaits us when we finally have Vilisar back up on the marine ways. This will be the third time since March! We are greeted by name by the hombres who help pull us out, for pity's sake!

Alex and Seida have moved their date on the grid forward and we decide to buddy-boat. Since they don’t have an engine in their big steel boat, we agreed to tow them if necessary. But this morning, we reckon we should be able to sail the seven miles to Balboa Yacht Club. Off we go about 0930 at about three knots and in pelting rain. Sailing is still fun after so long; the rain is relatively warm even when it drips down your neck. The sea water temperature is about 80ºC, the air is warm. "Humid" doesn’t quite catch the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the wind drops altogether about three miles short and we begin to arrange the tow lines on deck. Since there is so little breeze and a tide in our favour, Alex decides to use his outboard to push his boat along. We have lots of time in hand as high tide isn’t until 1347. We arrive far too early and both marine ways are still occupied. Alex pushes his sailboat right up close and drops an anchor. We patrol up and down off the yacht club until we see the previous occupant vacate the smaller of the two marine ways. Of course, when our time arrives, the breeze has picked up and a strong current is running. Nevertheless, we are hauled out by 1415 and the engine is shut down. There is Erwin Pitti with is various sons waiting for us as agreed.

While we are tidying up the deck, Erwin et alia are inspecting the hull. I am a little shocked when I finally get down to take a butchers. One of the planks, the one that showed only a black line underwater, is pushed out of alignment; the black line is the creosote, no doubt. I cannot imagine how one can deal with this. Erwin, on the other hand, is as usual quite sanguine. After all, in his fifties and at his job for probably forty years, Erwin has probably seen everything involved with wooden boats at least once.

He will be back in the morning at 0700 (he is always punctual). He assures me that he can fix the plank. He will bring a “gato”, the slang name in Spanish for a come-along or a jack, push the plank back into place. He will need access from the forecastle as he intends to drill holes vertically and then bolt the re-aligned plank permanently back into place. Then he will pull the water tanks and to inspect them and, if necessary patch them. We have a short list of other things he can do including checking over the rudder, which now rattles again after we had stopped that annoying trait with new gudgeon fasteners. Of course, there are a lot of cosmetic items to take care of: the bottom paint is scraped off and the wormshoe is damaged here and there. Erwin didn’t think this was too serious. Unfortunately, the chandleries are closed on Sundays so we shall have to wait until Monday to buy bottom paint. But we can sand and prep.

I realise how worried I must have been when I feel simultaneously both relieved and let down after Erwin and his clan leave. I feel we are in good hands now. Kathleen gathers up all our laundry and heads immediately for the laundrette about 100 feet from the boat. This is about the cheapest laundry facility anywhere around and all our bedding is beginning to feel salty-clammy. By dark, she has washed and dried everything and we are stowing them in the cabin while dinner, the leftover garlic broth with vegetables is being reheated and more noodles added. Delicious. Tastes even better tonight than yesterday! Maybe I am just hungry.

Alex is a treat to watch as he pushes his huge boat into the marine ways using just his dinghy and outboard. He is a real mariner. Of course, growing up on a boat and the experience that has given him helps. Maybe one day, when I grow up, I can do the same.

Preparing for Erwin's invasion of the forecastle will be left for very early tomorrow morning. Probably on the entry to the forecastle will have to be cleared away and perhaps the aft two vertical lockers there. Have no idea where all those cans are going to go.We can only hope; otherwise there is going to be a lot of canned goods and vegetables out in the sun and rain!

The Panamá Canal and worldwide recession

The traffic in the Panamá Canal is definitely very much off. I know that this is a totally subjective view, but in my opinion, there are fewer boats going through at present, the boats themselves are of a smaller size, and even many of those are empty or only partially filled. This is most obvious with container ships. I have only seen one or two big ones and then they are carrying many fewer containers (and how many empties?). Harbours like Singapore are no longer excepting anchored-off freighter, tankers, etc.; no more room. Every deep-sea harbour around the world is apparently the same. Here you can see thirty or forty ships around the entrance to the Canal and there are more anchored outside the 12 mile limit.

All this reflects the worldwide recession and especially the fall off in the China trade. There are hardly any consumers anymore in the U.S.A. They are worried about their jobs, overstretched financially anyway and under-capitalised as house values drop like a stone. Official unemployment has reached nearly 10% in the U.S.A., which as Krugman and others point out, means a real rate of closer to 15%. Ever since Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan chose to accept until-then record levels of unemployment post-WWII as a means of wringing inflation out of the economy, there has been a concerted effort to cook the unemployment figures in order to avoid teh political consequences of such policies by, for exmple, not counting various categories of the jobless, e.g. not-yet-employed high school/university graduates; the discouraged jobless; etc. It was a calculate attempt to capture the home-owning, middle-class liberal vote. The New Centre. All OECD countries do this numbers hat trick now - even so-called “Labour” or “Democratic” or Socialist parties of the Blair, Clinton or Schroeder ilk. Hilarious to see Tony Blair, Gerhardt Schroeder or Zapata of Spain raising their clenched fists at meetings of the “International”.) Obama won by appealing not only to idealism but specifically for a strengthening of the middle class. He mentioned them repeatedly in his speeches. This means a high level of employment, state-paid free and good education, and safe streets. All of course with low taxes. But that’s another ongoing debate.


  • At Saturday, July 11, 2009 10:36:00 am, Blogger Bob Ferguson said…

    The other trick is to count the inflation contribution of housing according to the rental value and not mortgage payments. That is a house that for which the total cost of ownership (assuming 100% borrowed money) is $4,000/month might rent only for $2,000. Rents increase at much slower rate than housing especially in bubble conditions.

    Face it, we live in badly managed countries all of us.


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