News aboard Sol Surfin


Jan 08 Update

Sol Surfin –January 2008 Update
We are transiting the Panama Canal this Thursday, Jan. 31st. If you get a chance you can link up to the Panama Canal website and see if you can find us in one of the locks. We will be starting early in the morning at the Miraflores locks and the ending the day at the Gatun locks on the Caribbean coast. Our catamaran will be covered in tires and we may or may not be tied up with another vessel. Below is our latest newsletter!


Gary and I left Nicaragua on December 8th after the successful installation of our new solar panels and batteries. We have enough electricity storage now and are doing well just living off of our solar panels. We run all of our navigation equipment, all lights, refrigerator, freezer, computer, DVD player, and everything else we need from the two 130 watt solar panels. We are happy and have plenty of electricity to go around although we are not wasteful and are very conservative in our use. I do make a tray of ice everyday which is a luxury for me that I cannot seem to live without, who can drink rum and cokes without ice!

We had a very successful passage down the coast of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. We cruised fairly quickly only returning to some of our most favorite anchorages along the way. We wanted to get down the coast on a rapid schedule because our goal for this 2008 season is to get to the other side. We intend to cruise the western Caribbean coast and spend some time in the San Blas Islands of Panama. We are planning to be in Florida by May/ June to spend some time with Gary’s family and see the old cruising ground from his youth. It is a rite of passage for him and it will be fun for me to see his old hangouts.

Our route this year will take us to the San Blas Islands and then if the weather is cooperating we will head north eastward on to Cartegena, Columbia. We will get a better jump off point and wind direction by heading all the way to Columbia before we begin our passage northwest. We will then head northwest to the Bay Islands of Honduras, Rio Dulce of Guatamala, the cays of Belize and the Yucatan Channel of Mexico. We will skirt north of Cuba and stop at Key West before heading up to Tampa Bay, Florida.

At this very moment we are in Balboa City, Panama just inside what use to be the American zone for the construction of the Panama Canal. This zone along with the canal itself was returned to the Panamanian people in 1999 and there is much going on with new construction and new businesses emerging.


We are at the anchorage with about 45 other boats from all over the world. We have been busy provisioning and ordering parts as well as preparing Sol Surfin to make her transit through the canal. We have completed all the necessary documents and paid the $600.00 fee and an additional $850 deposit for our transit. We have scheduled the date of January 31st. If you are interested you might be able to see us transit through one of the locks on the webcam that has been set up at . We should begin the transit at around 8:00 am (Panamanian time) and it will take about 1 hour plus to make the first 3 up-locks in Miraflores so see if you can spot us.
We will not make it to the other side until the afternoon. Hopefully if all goes as scheduled and we leave on time you will be able to spot our catamaran with the sides completely covered in black tires. We have requested the center chamber lock and may or may not be tied up with another sailboat boat. We are very excited about our transit and will send an update after we are safely on the other side.

Gary and I had quite an adventure getting to Balboa City. We wrote about our experience. It was very exciting and we are happy to have reached the top of the bay and are contently anchored and safe and sound.

As we made our way south scooting down the Panama coast, we finally reached Ensenada Benau, which is a safe place to tuck into and rest before attempting to turn the corner and enter into the exciting and unpredictable Bay of Panama. Some of you may remember Feb. 2007 newsletter and our journey with confused seas and 18 hours of hand steering. This year was not as bad except for the confusing seas, which seems to be consistent.

We left Ensenada Benau at 2:50AM 1-9-08. This bay is about 15 miles around the corner of Punta Mala and the entrance into the Bay of Panama. We wanted to hit the point at the crack of dawn, but the wind was kicking up and we were sailing at 6 knots and were at least an hour ahead of schedule. If we knew it was going to blow like this, we could have slept in! So we put in a few reefs in the main sail to slow us down and rounded the point with just a little bit of daylight so we could see our way. The seas and current were kicking up and we could tell that this was going to be a crazy ride since we had outgoing current and tides against us. We opted to go with the outgoing tides because we wanted to cross the shipping channels at daybreak. We were operating without our normal VHF antennae since we discovered a few days earlier while I was hoisted up the mast to make some adjustments to our wind vane that we lost our VHF antennae. It just magically disappeared off the top of our mast. It had fallen off without our noticing. So lucky for us, another cruiser had a spare limited range antennae that we borrowed until we could get into Panama City and get a replacement.

After making our rounding of Punta Mala, it was pretty rough seas especially for a Catamaran but not nearly as tough as the last trip, which had large 8' plus seas and a lot more wind. The weather forecast was calling for less than 8' seas but to be honest it all feels the same to me. Can you really tell a difference between a 6 foot trough and an 8 foot one? I had my seasick patch behind my ear and was ready for anything! Our friends on a monohull were also reported a tough time pounding into the waves and troughs, so catamaran or not, it was still a rough ride. Glad it only comes around once in awhile.


We averaged just over 4kts for our 95 miles travelled which doesn’t seem like much but against a 3 knot current is really great! The North West winds were gusting up to 27 knots and as low as 13 knots mostly on our port side. We sailed on the wind with a port tack and it was difficult making headway because of the current pushing us backwards. The current and the wind gusts caused a very uncomfortable sea state which we subsequently pounded into. Not fun, so after 13 miles of pounding towards the Las Perlas Islands we decided to tack towards the coast. We were hoping that closer to shore would provide for less fetch and waves and therefore a calmer sea state. This was not the case as we heard later from our monohull friends who said that they could not make headway against the rushing current.
As we headed to shore, it was a nice respite but only lasted a short while until a ship steaming straight our path. We tried many times to hail this freighter heading straight for us on the radio, but no response. We weren't sure if this was because of our borrowed antennae or if he was just ignoring us (which they often do). Since we sail with the "might is right" rule, we tacked back again towards the islands and found the sea state had improved (just a little bit) in that hour. So we continued on a port tack again for at least another hour when another freighter ship with no radio contact caused us to a starboard tack again towards the coast. We sailed towards the coast for awhile until we encountered another ship heading across our path, we decided to tack back towards Las Perlas again. Not forgetting that our goal is to get across the shipping channels before nightfall, it wasn’t helping that we were tacking back and forth inside the channel. On a port tack again and with the tide emptying out of this very large bay, the sea state was becoming uncomfortable again. With the tides and the currents going against us, we were pounding into the waves. This time we were too far out to head back to shore so we just suffered thru it. In the end when we look at our GPS track we zig zagged our way across the bay.
Things improved somewhat the closer we got to the islands, but all of a sudden our traveler car which holds the main sail into place ripped out and broke in half its stainless steel strap. This was very very scary especially for Gary because he was sitting at the starboard helm station at the time and was closest to the 8 purchase double block that was swinging wildly close to his head. When it ripped out of the track it whizzed past his head and could have easily hit him with all its force. We were closed hauled heading up wind and we were lucky that we were able to get this huge block and tackle under control. Gary reacted in a quick manner releasing the main sheet spilling the wind and I immediately headed the boat into the wind to slow Sol Surfin down and relieve the tension on the sail so we could tie down the preventer which we always keep attached to the boom (just in case). This kept the boom from hitting one of us in the head. We attached a second preventer and tied it down to the opposite port side and where able to keep the boom in the center of the boat with a triangle of tension lines. This all happened while we were in slightly lighter air and with less stress on the sails (something to consider when one assumes things only happen at highest loading). If we were sailing at full strength, this episode could have easily taken a person off the starboard aft deck with or without their head. Yikes! So glad that this happened in full daylight, if at night it would have just added another layer of tension. So while we were tackling all of this commotion, a freighter appeared on our bow at the time of all this chaos. He was only 8 miles out and Gary got on the radio and called out several times with no response. We had limited maneuverability and could not get out of his way in time for a large freighter bearing down directly on us at 25 knots. Our only hope was that someone was paying attention and up on deck and at the controls. After numerous more radio contact attempts and I guess the sound of desperation in Gary's voice, we heard a welcomed response on the other end of the radio saying that he saw us and would pass us on our starboard side. Gary assured the captain that we would stay on our current course until he passed us since we were repairing our vessel and unable to do much else. We did have the right of way with limited maneuverability but we always remember the "might is right" rule.


We gained some good experience within the hour with the securing of the whipping boom. Gary rigged two places to attach our main sheet block so we could continue on both a port and starboard tack. He wrapped the lines around our aft tubular beam and with an added quick release shackle we are able to move the main sheet block to either lashed lines depending on our wind angle. This turned out to work quite well so we were able to regain our sailing with a 4th reef in the main and a full jib out, we continued back on our heading. We did well and kept cool heads even in the worn tired state we were in and after minimal sleep.

In addition to all of the above, we also managed to rip our sail bag attachment points from the end of the boom so our sail/bag assembly was loose and not holding down the partially reefed mainsail in place but rather it was spilling over the sides and as Gary puts it looks "like a drunk in a twin bed".

We arrived at one of the bottom islands in the chain of the Las Perlas Islands named Isla San Jose at 4:00AM 1-10-08. We had been to this anchorage before so we felt comfortable arriving in the dark and were able to drop the hook and get some well needed sleep. We awoke many luxurious hours later to beautiful blue skies and white sandy beaches with clear blue water and 30 foot visibility. We put on our snorkel and fins and swam to shore to stretch our legs on the white pristine beaches. With only us and our foot prints, we recalled our time over the past 24 hours and were grateful to have that portion of our journey behind us. Twice we entered the Bay of Panama, and twice she kicked our butt but we still managed to make our way and are only stronger for the experience. Ironically both passages were done with great weather windows; I would hate to know what a bad weather window would be like!

We spent the next week exploring anchorages in the islands. We found a cozy anchorage in one of the little islands named Isla Casaya. These islands of the Las Perlas chain are famous for the Peregrina pearl that was gifted to the Queen Mary Tudor of England in the 1600's which was over 31 carats large! Of course, there are no more big pearls left. Most of the habitants of the islands are farmers and fisherman making a living with trade. We get fruits and vegetables and sometimes trade milk products and school supplies for the kids.

We found this really cool island of rocks and sand that at high tide completely covers and disappears. The tide swings are huge here and can be up to 20 feet. We were able to get quite close and drop anchor a short distance from the sandy shore. Lucky for us in our small draft boat we can get close enough without hitting any reef, the beauty of a multihull. We are practicing up on our reef and coral spotting techniques because this is what we will be dealing with in the Caribbean coast. I was up on the roof top looking down in clear water and hard to judge depths. Oops just isn’t an option when you are dealing with hard rock and getting holes in the boat. We did well but we can tell that we will need a lot more practice.

Blessings always,

Celeste and Gary
Sol Surfin

More to come soon.....HOME