We had slept probably half as much as we both needed to by the time the insistent tropical sun came blasting through the hatch. We knew there were jobs to do, so we dragged ourselves out of bed to do them.
I had been thinking that our return would be relatively easy since we had finished the lion’s share of the work before we left. I was wrong. We again found ourselves in an exhausting dawn to dusk work schedule in order to prepare for going back in the water. Jobs that should have been straight forward and relatively easy mushroomed into much worse. On the second day, for example, I lowered one of the jack stands supporting Begonia so I could be ready to paint under it. I found an area where the multiple layers of previous paint had chipped away; leaving a spot where I just knew the new paint would not adhere properly. It would have to be scraped away and then sanded again. Well, what started out as an area the size of my palm ended up being the size of a pretty big dinner table by the time I was finished. The whole scraping operation was at such a height that I was in a half-situp all morning using my abs to produce the scraping force.
Maryanne, who is dangerously allergic to the toluene in antifouling paint, spent the morning in Colón at the store buying us some food. She helped me tape the hulls before she left and I was worried about her reaction if she returned to find out that I hadn’t even cracked open a can of paint.
The joys of anti-foul painting
I actually managed to get two coats on by the time she came back, but only by working all day without any break. That part of the job was also harder than I anticipated. The paint dried quickly in the tropical heat, so I had to work fast and press hard with the roller to get a good finish. I was pretty much already mush by the time I had finished scraping and started painting. By the time the day was over, I was every-muscle sore. Even though I keep my core pretty strong, I kept getting cramps in my intracostal muscles (between the ribs) all night long. I’ve never had that. It hurts.
When Maryanne returned from the store it was with a new friend from the marina who had his own truck. We was a friendly guy who is here on a contract with the company building the big flyover bridge over both the new and current canals meant to eliminate the current delays waiting for drawbridges. He was kind enough to drive us out all the way to Fort Lorenzo, which is in the same nature preserve as the marina, but much too far to walk.
Fort San Lorenzo at the mouth of the Rio Chagres
Ft. San Lorenzo lies at a strategic point at the mouth of the Chagres River, which was the main route west before the canal was built. The Chagres is now the source of water for canal operations. Several different forces have occupied the fort since it’s inception, most notably Captain Morgan, the pirate. On the drive back, he was even nice enough to stop at a couple of beaches, which are few and far between on this mangrove coast. The surf was a bit high for swimming, but we had a nice walk and talk while poking through the jungle. I’m afraid I was so sore by then that I was having trouble keeping up.
The next day, we finished the painting with a couple more coats. By the time we showered, the big Superbowl party had already started in the lounge. Poor Darren. He’s such a big Denver fan. I don’t imagine he was enjoying himself back in California.
Finally Begonia is ready for her ride back to the water
The following afternoon, we put Begonia back in the water. While I had been looking forward to this, I was dreading the job of getting the rudders reinstalled. They are thick fiberglass on long solid stainless steel posts and they are heavy. I was going to have to hold the weight of more than a hundred pounds while crouched in a very uncomfortable position until Maryanne could get the hardware reattached from inside the boat. Just when it came time to go pick up the rudders, two big, strong yard guys stepped in and did all of the work for me. Maryanne was really quick on her end and the boat took the weight of the rudders within seconds.
Begonia was eased back into the water. There was a flurry of activity as I ran around checking for possible leaks. She stayed dry inside. We went to start the engines to pull out of the slings and got absolutely nothing when we switched on the starboard engine. There were no warning lights; there was no “click” as the relay closed. Nothing. I had a quick look at the wiring connections at the engine while Maryanne pulled the control panel off. Damn! I was really hoping to avoid that. The last time I installed that panel, I sealed the hell out of it to keep it from leaking. It was a real pig to get off. There was nothing obvious on that end either.
It was going to be dark soon and I wanted to be spending the night at our own slip, where I could work on the problem without the yard breathing down my neck to get out of the way. I started the starboard engine by jumping the contacts at the solenoid with a screwdriver. We had no indications and no warning lights, but it ran. The port engine was fine, so we headed to our slip.
By the time we were secure and I had fiddled with all of our dock lines to my satisfaction, Maryanne, in her way, had the engine electrical schematic up on her computer. A little study narrowed the likely culprit to be the red wire (which was black) or possibly the white wire (which was red). This was good news. There are about thirty wires in that harness. We would at least have a place to start the next day.
We were about to collapse into bed again after yet another exhausting day, when Maryanne suggested we would sleep a little better if we knew for sure what was the trouble. Out came our electrical tester and we were soon moving the probes around, checking for continuity. We were able to determine that the problem was undeniably the red wire (which is black). The next day, all we would have to do is replace one wire. Not too bad.
Except that it was long and had to be snaked from the control panel at the helm all the way down to the engine, passing through all manner of tiny spaces which could only be accessed by dismantling that half of the boat. It turns out the red wire (which is black) had chafed through as it passed through a bulkhead. It had been forced into a tighter space when we made room for the heating duct for the Webasto. We replaced it with a red wire and padded the hell out of the chafe point. In the process, Maryanne found a broken connection at the start button and re-soldered it on. That’s a good woman to have, folks! It took all morning to get everything together, but the engine works again, just like it’s supposed to.
We were just starting to put everything back together when the Admeasurer unexpectedly arrived. We had been told he wouldn’t be at Begonia until the next day, but he had a cancellation and was at the marina, so there he was.
The Admeasurer is the official from the Panama Canal Authority who is responsible for measuring the vessel for determining transit fees as well as assuring compliance with various other requirements. After taking his tape measure to Begonia, we took a table in the restaurant to go over all of the paperwork. We handed him document after document and he handed me back form after form to sign. He was very cordial and the experience was very pleasant. When he was finished, he explained that he had a couple other boats to see. At the end of the day, he would enter our information into the system and we would be given a transit time.
A couple of hours later, Roy, our agent, called and said that we would be going through in three days. Wow! We have been “going to” go through the canal for quite some time, but this was the real deal. Three days. We had a lot of jobs to do.
The first of which was to get the boat presentable. We would be home to three extra line handlers for the two-day transit, plus a different Canal Advisor for each day.
It took another whole day, but we finally got Begonia to where we felt like we were living on a boat again and not in a shop. Finally, we were able to eat dinner without looking at a table full of tools. The “work” vibe was gone and now we were having a very long vacation on a boat again.
It didn’t last. We needed food, not just for six people during the transit, but also for the months between Colón and Hawaii. Rey, the local grocery store in Colón, would drive us back to the marina if we spent more than $300 on food. Panamá City is supposed to have better stores, but getting months of food to the boat on the dinghy would be a real pain, so we decided to stock up on all non-perishables at Rey.
We blew way past our $300. Our three bulging carts came to about $850. They gave us a special checkout lane. Our food took up the whole floor of the delivery van, which also turned out to be solely for us. At the marina, we loaded it all into dock carts, and then into the cockpit and I was honestly surprised afterwards that Begonia didn’t seem to sink noticeably under the weight.
This is the point where I usually start to freak out. I look at all of that food scattered in big piles everywhere and wonder where in the hell we are going to fit it all. I fear that I’m going to wake up in the morning to find that I’ve been cuddling a big bag of flour all night and that Maryanne is gasping for breath under a pile of cans that fell on her hours earlier.
Grocery shopping: provisioning the boat for up to four months before our next opportunity to shop easily
Maryanne kept me busy taking things out of boxes and re-bagging them while she went to work inside. By the time I was finished, she was finished. She asked me to have a look to see if there was anything I didn’t like. It was amazing! Maryanne is a freaking magician! Not only was all of the new food stowed away with all of the food we already had, but the boat still looked clean and tidy from the night before. It’s full. No doubt, but there is no need to take big steps over mounds of provisions or sit on boxes until we eat ourselves some more living space. And, AND she still left room for the line handlers to sleep. The only thing that seems to have suffered is access to our spare children’s life jackets, for which we are not anticipating a need for a while. Visitors with kids will have to either eat A LOT before we cast off, or bring their own.
People often ask me what Maryanne does all day, as if the poor thing must be staring out from the boat all day, bored to tears. Usually, she has plenty to keep her occupied. We often wonder how it is that we seem so busy with all of the loafing. She often quips that she tries to get one thing done a day. Today, it took two of us to do one thing, so only half a thing each. We left the boat at 8 a.m. and had the last item stowed away at 6 p.m. Sometimes, there’s not even time to do one whole thing.