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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! DAMN!
Isla Pedro Gonzalez, Perlas Islands, Panamá, Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Position at Tuesday, 28 July 2009, 0900 hr.: N 08º 25.21' W 79º 06.40'

This is really becoming a pattern! Are we ever going to get out of here?
Here we were yesterday morning keyed up to up anchor and depart to head
offshore to The Marquesas with a possible stop in The Galapagos.
Everything is stowed. There is a reasonable N breeze of about 5-10 kts to
scoot us south. All last night the skies south of Pedro Gonzales Island
were alive with almost continuous lightening. But the new, sliver of a
moon sank behind the point a few hours after sunset and the stars were out
for us. We woke at dawn and started making last minute chores. I leaned
into the engine compartment and checked the oil level. Nothing! No oil
showing on the dipstick at all!

The engine seemed to function just fine on the way down, although,
admittedly, it was starting to run hotter near the end. Now I suspect why.
I get out a flashlight and lean in over the engine. There has been some
splashing of oil on the side where the filler cap is, but this not
altogether unusual. I can't figure it out. But I notice that the under the
engine, the water seems dark and oily. That's where the engine oil has
probably gone.

I pour in a gallon and a half of SAE 40, our reserve for the trip. That
brings the level up to the top line of the dipstick. I check everything
again for leaks but can't see anything. I clean all around the oil filter
and the engine room so I can more readily identify oil spray or leaks and
then wait for a couple of hours to see if the dipstick level drops or I
can see or hear leaking. But, no change in the levels and no visible signs
of oil loss.

After two hours I start the engine, run it for five minutes and watch
again for leaks. Nada!

I changed the oil while we were on the marine ways at Balboa Yacht Club,
substituting SAE 40 for the SAE 15W-40. That latter oil seemed to
evaporate in this hot climate. Enrique, the mechanic at the Club, where
they use small air-cooled Lister engines in the small work boats, told me
to stick with SAE 40; others said even to go with SAE 50 down here. And
certainly the engine seemed to run cooler and quieter. But, now the SAE 40
is disappearing too. So I guess there might have been a leak earlier but
we have not run the engine for a lot of hours at a time (8 hours to get to
the island).

So, now what? Kathleen is depressed, partly a result of the seasick
medication she has taken to get ready for the first couple of days at sea.
I am still trying to figure everything out and what to do. Trying to put a
happy face on things, Kathleen says she is happy to be in the islands for
a few days. But it is disappointing not to be leaving. Damn!


We spend the whole day here while we doze and read and let various options
go through our heads. A wooden fishing boat arrives at high tide and
anchors quite close to us. "Los Emilios", it's called and it's painted
grey, yellow and black. Very handsome! There are 10 or 12 guys working
aboard here, mostly young black men. Once anchored on a very long rope
line attached to a fisherman anchor, half the crew heads to the beach for
a swim and to scour for clams in the "longboat", i.e., a wooden boat with
an outboard. They return later and the small boat takes 6 or 8 men off to
the village. We are so close to the fishing boat that we can hear the
clicking of dominos as the remaining crew relax under the aft awning.
There are other fishing boats dotted along the coast of this bay. They set
their drift lines and nets at night but, according to Alex, The Russian,
they don't fish at high or low tide. They come in to rest. Towards dark
they collect up their crewmen from town, everyone has a pee over the side,
the skipper runs the bilge pumps for 15 minutes until the water turns
dark, the diesel engines are started and three men go forward to pull in
the anchor. No windlass needed when you have so much muscle power. We wave
back and forth and they give us the thumbs up as they go slowly forward
and soon they chugging out into the Del Rey Strait, the diesel engines
giving a low rumble.


This brings us back to the rumble of our own diesel. Or lack of it, in
this case. We sit in the cockpit as the sun goes down and hatch out a
plan. Clearly we need to get back to Panamá City and get the mechanical
problem sorted out. We have several contacts around and there are even
mechanics in the cruiser "fleet" looking for work. Probably none of the
latter group has ever seen a Lister, whereas there are local mechanics who
still work on them. I assume the problem is a leaking seal and, since I
cannot see the leak, it must be at the back and/or underneath the motor.
This is bad since, although the problem is not huge, getting at the seal
probably means pulling the engine. We have already been through this in
Ecuador. Wacho pulled the engine off its mounts using a come-along
suspended from the boom and wires let down through a two-inch hole cut
into the bridge above the engine. He turned the whole engine around inside
the engine room and worked at the back of it when it was then sticking out
into the cabin.

We seem to be able to use the engine for short periods, so the leak is not
apparently huge. Five or six hours total? We should be able to sail back
to Panamá City, using the engine only for entering anchorages.
Unfortunately, we are now out of oil to keep adding to the engine. Oh,
well! We are a sailboat, after all.

Kathleen puts part of her reaction to the situation down to her seasick
meds. This morning she is much more cheerful. It's a disappointment but
not the end of the world even if we don't make it to French Polynesia this
season. We can hang out between Panamá City and The Perlas until after
Christmas and then leave. Even though we're a sailboat, since we have an
engine, we should have it in good working order. But, we need time - and
money - to get the engine repaired. We used up all our funds including
loading our credit card in order to get out of here. With time in
hand, Kathleen should be able to get some work online and I should get a
couple of pension checks into the bank. But, unless the problem is minor
(what boat problems are minor?), it looks like leaving for French
Polynesia is off for now. Well, we have "tons of food", as Kathleen points
out.

The breezes this morning are light and straight from Isla Contadora, where
we have decided to head as a Zwischenstation. On the other hand, if the
winds stay N or NNE, we could sail close-hauled right back to Panamá City,
albeit probably rather slowly. An overnighter.

Breakfast consists of eggs scrambled with the leftover sweet-potato, onion
and celery salad from last night. Even better this morning! There are
several fishing boats rafted up near us this morning again. The guys call
and wave. A cheerful lot! That's good.



"Another day, another plan!" says Kathleen.

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