Punta Mala, Panama

Latest Test... Punta Mala


When last we met, “Someday” was about to sail from Boca Chica, Panama to Pan. City via Bahia Honda, Catalina and Isla Taboga.   This transit should be accomplishable in 3 days, plus whatever time you take in Bahia Honda.  Well, it took 7 days, plus two (two day stopovers in Bahia Honda and Catalina), by choice.

Indeed,  the 11  day total just got us to Taboga, and we spent 15 days there. Three days ago, we finally got to Balbo Yacht Club in Panama (City).

This allows for about a 60 degree or more close reach, quartering the waves, and getting the boat to the other side of the Gulf of Panama. There the current is a favorable 1 knot all the way to your destination. 

Taking the thumb line approach around the point and directly into the contrary current, which can easily reach 2 knots, but is usually one, but on the nose. If, as frequently happens this time of year, a North wind picks up, it is also on the nose, taking the shortest line to the city.  Since the first two times I rounded Punta Mala I went directly and comfortably, I have this obviously devil inspired delusion, that I can again make the direct run without difficulty.  The now three times since that I have tried it, have all been…well a disaster!  

Have I learned anything?   Yes!!  If at first you don’t succeed, and a second and third, give up the attempt.  As we approached Punta Mala, (Spanish for Bad Point) I was fully prepared to make the crossing of the gulf to the Las Perlas.  Alas, we rounded the point under power, against a mild current and no wind.  

I drained the deck tank of diesel into the main tank so there would be no chance we would run out of fuel.  We motored along easily to about 2 miles from Isla Bona, as the North winds began to pick up on our nose.  We decided to anchor for the night in the shelter of the pretty little well protected bay on the island.   Isla Bona is 10 miles from Taboga, and 16 from Panama city.

Suddenly, the engine RPM dropped substantially.  The engine didn’t die, just lost a lot of power.  I deduced correctly, that the deck tank may have had some crud in the bottom of the tank, that was beginning to clog the fuel filter.  In my  mind, I thought.  Well! It is running, and we are directly down wind from Isla Bona,  I probably should just nurse it into the bay, only 2 miles away, and change the filter there.  

Nope!  My confident thought was we could simply change the filters, re-bleed the engine and be back under way.  We unfurled the genoa, and headed West at 45 degrees off the wind with Barb at the helm.  I shut down the engine and went below to deal with the filters.   I have done this before, and changing both, then bleeding the engine and restarting usually takes 15 minutes.

Not this time,  I could not get the secondary filter to seal. Again and again, I took it off, re set and re-bled without success.  I went above, thinking that the hour I had spent below, plus the angle to the wind we were maintaining would have us closing on Chaime to the west, and we could tack back to the island.  To my dismay, the wind set, plus the negative current had carried us about two miles further from our goal.  We tacked towards the NE, again 45 degrees off, and were making decent time through the water.

I went back below and continued to fight with the engine, now looking at all the other potential air leaks and changed from the Baldwin filter I had tried to use to a genuine “Perkins’.  No luck.   This probably exacerbated the problem  by opening all sorts of new potential air leaks.  

After struggling unsuccessfully for  several more hours, I quit that process and decided we would have to make it sailing.   We decided to make one more effort to get to Bona, which had retreated well into the distance, and tacked back to the West.

After a few hours, I realized we could not get there from here due to the current and wind direction.  Winds were mid 20s across the deck, and we were losing ground.   We tacked back to the East to make the Las Perlas, and the favorable current,  sailing well initially.

I radioed for assistance, and as a warning, without a response.  I could see both ships and large commercial fishing vessels.  But no  response.  What’s this?  My cell phone has a signal…albeit weak, but a signal.  I called Chewy and Susan at Isla Taboga Moorings.  First, I insisted that due to  the weak signal, which might be lost at any second, she copy down our position.  Then I explained why and asked if they could arrange a tow;  I expected a commercial high cost one, and had few options.

It was still very windy, high 20s, and waves had built, so the tow was wet and miserable.  At Bona, we anchored between it and Isla Otequi for protection.  Barb had offered to fix the four men on the tow boat a hot dinner, and did.  It may have been the thing that convinced them to stay until 1AM, and since the wind had eased to approx 15, resume the tow to Taboga, and fasten us to a mooring at 0300.

Many thanks to Chewy and Susan of Isla Taboga Moorings for setting up our rescue, and the Search and Rescue division of the Panamanian Marines for carrying it off.  All gratuitously.--

Bill Nokes
s/v Someday
Chetco Cove, OR
GS 41



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