Life behind the Ducker!!!
“Hey Mark, I’m moving to Panama! Any idea how I should get my 36 down there?”
That is how it all started early last year.
Steve had bought a new Hunter 36 from us several years ago and as he was living in the Bahamas at the time, I helped him to sail his new boat over to Nassau where he had spent a few years of day sailing her on the beautiful sheltered waters of the Bahamas.
I flew over to Nassau in the spring and Steve and I sailed her back to the small WellFound Yachts marina that is located behind my house. It was an uneventful ride to Florida with light winds and good food and conversation. We spent the summer months going over the Hunter, fixing a few items like the floor under the AC unit, and a few other items. We had the jib serviced and also added a small solar array to give us another way of charging the batteries while under way or at anchor.
Steve uses his Hunter more for day sailing than anything else and as I expected a mainly downwind sail to Panama, I didn’t push the addition of a nice but expensive dodger. Instead my brother in law (an old friend and sail maker and I) designed and built ‘The Ducker’.
The concept of a Ducker was not new to me. I had made makeshift protection for the helmsman on many occasions over the years. “Hey Mark, I got soaked on watch last night! Ya, I know. It’s a ducker not adodger” was always my reply.
Brother-in-law Bill had some great ideas, we would get a piece of clear vinyl, piece it together with Gorilla tape, put grommets at each corner and along the sides. We could attach it to the handrails forward of the companionway hatch and tie it to the front of the bimini frame.
I won’t go into the construction details, but it turned into a 7X7 square of clear vinyl that was both stronger and gave more shelter than I had dared to hope for. Which was a good thing as the fickled winds of the Caribbean gave us at least 500 miles of upwind sailing, some of it in less than ideal conditions. What was not up wind was in winds of 30+ knots.
I am please to say that the Ducker stood up to the task valiantly. This is a testament to American engineering and Gorilla tape! (Don’t leave home with out it!!!)
We were able to leave Florida with a good weather window and made it to Nassau in record time. Less than a day and a half!! Dr. Bob joined us for the first leg of the voyage but had to get back to North Carolina to cut on someone so he could not stay for the whole voyage.
Dr. Bob was replaced by my associate Bill Regan’s wife, Tricia, who had never made this type of passage before… none of us knew what would cross our path.
The trip to Nassau was as uneventful as the Gulf Stream can sometimes be, it pays to wait and watch the weather. Trisha, Dr. Bob, Bill and myself were all on board for the next few 100 miles across the banks to the Exumas and then over to Cat Island. By now the weather had turned easterly –as expected- so it was slow going. All this upwind sailing turned up a flaw in the mainsail that I had not noticed before. ‘Leach Flutter!’ The leach would flutter so badly that the whole rig would shake uncontrollably. This is not a good thing. In fact, the rig shook so badly that it shook the pine out of the main furler that allows the sail to be furled into the mast.
OK, we have to do something about this!
Fortunately, the ‘Maestro’ was at home! As I have mentioned before, the ‘Maestro’ refers to my good friend and long time sailing companion Dave Calvert. Among Dave’s many talents is his main gig as sail maker extraordinaire! (If you Race Corsair Trimarans, and you often win, there is a good chance you have Dave’s sails on board.) Dave has moved to Cat Island where he has built a lovely home on a south facing beach over looking beautiful ocean. It would be hard to imagine a more idyllic location.
The day was spent replacing the pin in the furler. Not an easy task as it required dexterous and steady hands. These were proffered by Bill. Next the main was taken ashore and we all descended upon it with gusto. Ripping seams, measuring the panels and then setting the ‘Maestro’ to his machine putting it all back together. The wind blew so hard for the next few days that we could not re-hoist the sail but Sunday dawned clear and calm. The sail was hoisted and furled. Furled and unfurled. Small adjustments were made and by 0900 we were under way bound for Panama.
We motored most of the day but early evening found us close hauled in a steadily building easterly. By midnight it was blowing 20 knots! No problem, the wind is supposed to back to the NE and then we will really get moving. This became our Mantra!
Indeed the wind did eventually back, but not before we got to the Windward Passage. And when it did back it blew. Certainly there were gusts of close to 40 knots but mostly a steady 30 knots. Going through the northern part of the passage we surfed almost dead down wind often seeing over 11 knots on the GPS. By evening we had sailed into the lee of Haiti and were motoring slowly toward Navassa Island.
The next day started calmly enough but by mid afternoon the wind had picked up to 20+ knots out of the east, seas were running at about 10 feet on the beam. Now we were on our way.
“Hey, when the wind backs a bit we can really get moving”
Well the wind did increase, but only hinted at backing. In fact because of the boat speed, the apparent wind was often forward of the beam. OK, not so bad, but the lively little Hunter was wet and uncomfortable. Thanks to the Ducker, we were not nearly as wet as we might have been, although it is arguable that you can’t get any wetter than wet!!
The four stages of wet:
1. Wet from head to foot
2. Soaking wet
3. Wringing wet
4. Wet to the bone
The next 4 days were spent praying for the wind to back and watch the now 15 foot waves march on along with the occasional one breaking on our beam slewing us around and sending huge columns of spray up into the air. I found it amazing that at least 99% of this spray would hit the boat, over 75% of this would land in the cockpit. Only a mere 1% was seen to land harmlessly else-where!
Saturday, Day 6, dawned overcast with the wind moderating and backing slightly. This was the day that fools you into thinking that it is all worth while! Sailors are so gullible!!!
Day 7 dawned with half the ships of the world anchored in front of us. This must be Panama!!!!
I have been here before! At the risk of giving away my age, the last time I was here was over 20 years ago. Changed? I’ll say so.
There used to be a Colon Yacht club. Well that was what they called it. I seem to remember 3 rickety docks and a bar. It was a great place to organize your canal transit from. As I remember it, it was the only place to arrange your transit from!
Now there is the Shelter Bay Marina. Lots of modern slips, great showers, small grocery and boat hardware, restaurant and small hotel with a pool. There is a travel lift and storage yard. Hey, there is even a small workshop that you are able to do minor repairs of your own in!
The marina is gated so no outsiders can easily get in. I have to say, that I felt more secure than I have in many marinas in the USA!
The staff are friendly and helpful, but as expected, they are not in a rush. Why would they be? Remember you are not in the US now!
If you are waiting a few days for transit or perhaps using this as a base to cruise this corner of the Caribbean (San Blas Islands are just around the corner) this could be a great Marina to use. We meet several cruising couples who had been here for over a year, not from necessity, but by choice!!
For us there was a flavor of urgency. We wanted to get this boat home to Steve, and we all needed to get to our respective homes. But whether you have a transit to the Pacific in your future or you are looking for a safe place in this part of the world to be your base… Shelter Bay Marina. An easy place to find, a hard place to leave!!!