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.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Day 1 (Sunday, July 26, 2009)

Position at Sunday, 26 July 2009, 1800 hr.: N 08º 25.21' W 79º 06.40'

We thought we never get out of Panamá City! Each time we tried to leave,
something else would happen to delay our departure. Of course, the main
event was going on the rocks at Isla Taboga and waiting around to get onto
the marine ways for repairs. Once that was done there seemed to be a
myriad of little issues like the fractured bronze hinge-pins on the
skylight, re-wiring the solar panels with bigger wire, etc. etc.

We had finally set Saturday as the date to leave. We were so spooked by
everything that we decided just to think about getting Vilisar moving
again and only planning for a one-day passage to the Islas Perlas. It's a
favourite cruising ground and not all that far from Panamá City. But it is
a totally different world, remote, uninhabited or barely-populated
islands, beaches and rocks and palm trees. No more traffic. No more dirt
and fumes. No more late night blaring music. Most importantly, no more
hesitation. Once we were out of Las Brisas de Amador anchorage, we could
skip the Perlas and keep right on going. We both like to make a shorter
passage to start with, just to break the suction, so to speak, to finish
stowing, test some boat-operating equipment (the windvane steering or
tiller pilot, for example), to clean the bottom in clean water instead of
the crud that you find so close to Panamá City.

So Saturday it was. Friday had been one of the most humid and oppressive
days we've experienced here yet. I went into town by car with Roger, the
skipper of the French vessel S/V Kerzo. He had taken me to a machine shop
a few days earlier to get the pins replaced on the bronze hinges from the
skylight. The workshop was way across town on Transistmica, a horrid,
under-built, four-lane corridor of big box stores and side streets full of
small shops and offices. It's the American model of city planning: no real
centre and plenty of urban sprawl. It's rather like going to Vernon or
Watts. We had to return on two different days to get the hinges at last.
$10 for pulling one pin! He hadn't bothered to renew the two pins in the
other hinge though asked. I didn't bother to discuss things. We wanted out
of here!

So, Saturday it was. We would stay on the boat, get the dinghy up and
stowed in the morning and take off for Isla Pedro Gonzalez, just under 40
Nm away to the SE. But, once again we were defeated. The sky was,
unusually for this time of the year, totally clear. This means the sun was
intensive and the thermometer was over 30ºF by 0800. We did manage to get
the front half of the Chameleon dinghy on the deck before we both pooped
out. The back half still tied to the side of the boat, we decide to load
it towards dusk and be ready to leave at dawn the next day.

We are both feeling rather weak and take a day off. Where we are anchored,
nearly every dinghy has to pass us to get to or from the dock. How many
times did we have to hear the question, "I thought you were leaving
today?" or "Still here?" But, in the afternoon we watch one of the 250
movies that Tom and Beata from the Polish vessel S/V Luka had copied onto
our external hard drive. We keep below in the shade with the awning still
rigged until about 1700 when we appear to finish stowing the dinghy and
rigging the sails for departure.

So, Sunday it is.

We are both awake at first light about 0530. There is a gentle breeze from
the north, which is what we have been counting on. At 0615 the engine is
started and we are weighing the slime-coated anchor and making a huge mess
of the foresails, the chain and most of the foredeck. Never mind! We will
be dropping our Bruce anchor onto a sandy bottom in the islands and
getting it cleaned up there. We drive out past S/V Batwing (Diane waves us
goodbye) and S/V Kerzo, where Roger is sleeping on the deck. He waves us
farewell too and we promise to try and meet in the Marquesas.

A few minutes later the sails are up for the first time since March and we
are headed ESE to catch the land breeze. It takes a little while to sort
out various kinks in the sheets and halyards - one of the reasons we
didn't want to make a night passage to the islands. In fact, however, we
have no real problems and Vilisar is soon cruising along quietly at about
3 kts. We enjoy the cool morning air with the panorama of Manhattan-like
Panamá City off to our port. The city is coming to life.

Almost as soon as we have the sails up we are joined by a pod of big
dolphins. They are cruising for food in groups but some individuals swarm
the boat and, where I am standing on the bowsprit, one big fellow cruises
directly below our bowsprit. Kathleen announces that this is a good omen.
Never having learned the art of deciphering omens to the same degree, I
take her word for it.

With 40 Nm to go, we know we won't make Isla Pedro Gonzalez by nightfall
if we rely only on the sails. This is the worst part of coastal sailing.
Since you have to make a port by dark (unless you are quite familiar with
it and want to risk a night approach), and since the winds near the coast
are fluky (mainly land and sea breezes), you are condemned to use the
engine. Oh, well. We enjoy the sailing whilst we can. About 1000 we decide
that instead of 3 knots we need to be making 5 knots if we are to make it
before dark. We pull in the big jib and the drop the staysail, leaving the
mainsail as a steadying sail. We throw on the Lister. The sea is basically
calm and, any wind still around, is quartering. So we are not bashing to
windward into short, steep waves. Lister doesn't like that; Vilisar's
motoring speed drops rapidly when conditions are adverse, as we were able
to confirm on the way up here from Ecuador last Christmas. Now however, we
toot along with an easy 5 kts.

At one point when I go onto the bridge to check around, I see a vessel off
to the SSW at about 2 Nm. Out of curiosity I look at her through
binoculars. To my great surprise I see a whale breach right up out of the
water between our two boats at a distance of at least a mile. Soon one or
two more do the same thing. I call to Kathleen excitedly.

After the show is over, we discuss once again if we might perhaps skip
Isla Pedro Gonzalez and just start for the Galapagos right now. But, in
the end, we opt for the island. The venerable Navico 5000 tiller pilot
takes over as the sun climbs in the clear sky and the heat again becomes
intensive. We retire below to the main cabin berths and set daytime
watches. Every 10-15 minutes one of us goes out and has a thorough
butchers, checks the compass bearing and, finally, checks the oil pressure
and engine temperature. Friend Lister is loud and rattles and rumbles
away, liking the new SAE 40 oil we now use that keeps her temperature
down. The main sail slats occasionally in the gentle swells but it does
not bother us.

We are old salts again, back aboard a real cruising boat (instead of a
houseboat) and looking forward now to a long passage and settling rapidly
into our shipboard routines. The depression and lows of anchoring in
Panamá City are behind us. "Harbours rot ships and men." With any sort of
luck we shall reach Wreck Bay on San Cristóbal Island in The Galapagos in
about 14 days.

We are going to head due south from the Bay of Panamá until we reach about
N 2º, before turning West (but westing as much as possible, depending on
winds). The Virtual Passage Planner says there is a good south-bearing
current if we go between Isla Malpelo off Colombia and the mainland. But
of course, at some point it meets the quite strong North-bearing, cold
northern branch of the Humboldt Current. Wouldn't mind missing that.

At all times we shall be trying to get south of the squally and windless
ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone or The Doldrums) as quickly as
possible, even though we are bound to meet winds with a southerly
component thereafter. These will help us once we bear more West. We also
expect the air and water temperatures to drop as we near the Humboldt
Current's influence.


Slowly Isla Pedro Gonzalez materialises out of the haze ahead of us. We
pass other Perlas islands portside in the medium distance. Pedro Gonzalez
has a large and well-protected bay in front of a small village of 400 or
500 souls. We decide to drop anchor behind a small island lying off the
main island about a mile from the village. We don't intend to launch the

Our first attempt at anchoring is not satisfactory; we fear that the
current extreme, new-moon tides might leave us high and dry in the night;
we pick up the anchor and move a few hundred yards. The new spot is also a
bit better shelter from the light NE breeze that are currently cooling us
down. Anything but a strong E wind will not bother us. No bad weather is
anticipated in the foreseeable future here. By 1730 the anchor is down at
high tide in 25 feet of clear water over sand.

Kathleen sits in the cockpit becoming frustrated at entering waypoints for
the onward voyage to The Galapagos while I fix us drinks and think about
dinner. Lunch was cole slaw, peppers and carrots with an Asian dressing; a
lot of our fresh produce is already going off and we have to use it up
before we start on the tins. The remnants of the cole slaw will make up
the basics of our stir fry for tonight along with some chopped-up choriso
sausage. But first a (warm) beer.

So, I guess the voyage/adventure has finally begun!


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