SAN

three hulls, two people, one trip around the world…

Lock Down in Panama – Phase_3

There is something to report, if you wait patiently. 

First of all, the curfew has been loosened again. In Panama hairdressers, beauty salons and car dealerships were allowed to reopen. Soon the population pointed out that the curfew of 2 hours a day hardly leaves any time to visit the supermarket and the hairdresser. I guess most people in Panama don’t do weekly shopping, some do not have refrigerators, so they can only shop for a few days and therefore probably go to the supermarket three times a week. In any case, the government has shown some understanding and has relaxed the curfew. In the two provinces around Panamacity, gender segregation still applies, but the restriction to 2 hours after the final digit in the passport has been lifted. So now I can go out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and Mathias on Tuesdays, Thursdays and again on Saturdays. Only Sunday has remained as a full quarantine day. This also means that I can now go shopping together with the wife of the other German yacht, wearing masks of course. Let’s hope that this time the relaxation will last longer than a week. This Monday I was on my bike one hour earlier than usual. I didn’t notice any big differences except that car traffic has increased. 

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We have finally managed to get an agreement with the Marina to use the Dinghy Dock. We have now paid $100 for one month. It was not easy to find someone who was present to collect the money.

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Package-Story continued

The exchange Escape Hatches had arrived. Addressed to the Marina here. Mathias asked several times how and where we could pick them up. Only after about a week did it turn out that the package was at a small customs station on the compounds of the Marina and had to be picked up by us directly. You have to pay a storage fee. Due to this lack of information, our package had been stored there for quite a long time. When I picked it up, I had to pay for 5 days storage, we were not charged for the weekend. The fee is $21 a day, so we had to pay $105. Well, that supports the state of Panama, they have a lot of extra expenses through Corona right now.

Another package-story developed around the alternator, which was replaced by Mastervolt as a warranty case. There is a small addition to this story. I had reported that Pochon could not help. That was not because they had not tried. The contact to the company continues to work perfectly, even after hours and on weekends. The boss had even read our blog and immediately asked why they couldn’t have helped. This was because Pochen had to turn to Mastervolt with the error, only Mastervolt France was already on summer vacation, so Mathias ended up at Mastervolt USA with this warranty case. He agreed with Mastervolt that the replacement part should be sent to the Mastervolt representative here in Panama. We assumed that this would be easy going, as it should not be the first time they send parts back and forth. Far from it. The package arrived and was to be picked up for $522 customs and fees. A lot of back and forth writing revealed that an agent would have to be involved. One was found who did the trick of lowering the fees to $250. Still too much, but the alternative of refusing acceptance and waiting for a new shipment at unknown charges was even worse. One problem was probably that the package had been shipped with UPS, who are not allowed to deliver to „Yacht in Transit“ here. When Mathias received the package from the agent, the agent only wanted to get as far as the turn-off at the main road. There Mathias had to unpack the generator and carry it unobtrusively to the marina. Probably because of the aforementioned small customs station, which we had already got to know when picking up the hatches. 😉

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Excitement on Board

A first attempt to replace the generator caused a rat tail of other events and brought us a lot of excitement:

During this process the WLan Redbox failed – our lifeline – and this is what Mathias reported:

In order to dismantle the old alternator, it must first be disconnected from the power supply. The fuse can only be disconnected by loosening the corresponding screw in the 24V box. Hmmm, to tinker with a ratchet in the fuse box is not without risk, so why not simply switch off the main fuses of the four 24V Li batteries? No sooner said than done. Hmmm. Somehow there is still voltage on the contacts, so switch the fuses back on and think it through… Ahhrgg… it beeps! – lots of alarms! The solar controllers all report a ‚Shunt Missmatch’… Panic!! Our batteries are empty in a few days without solar! Because of our many solar panels, we don’t have a generator. And the alternator is broken… And the panels also claim that the battery voltage is only 14V instead of 26V. And indeed, I measure that on a 24V socket. Hmmmmm. Conferencing again with Pochon via WhatsApp. Step by step… Connect Mastervolt software to the system and check all of them. It also says 14V is battery voltage… Then the realization that the main fuses on the 24V Li batteries not only have to be turned, but also pushed back in… OK, but why did I still measure 14V? Never mind, push in! But oh! Other error messages. Battery Voltage too high‘. What happened now? Even more panic!! WhatsApp and Pochon again. Aha, the red alarm lights on the MPPT solar controllers are flashing… So disconnect the battery from each controller once to force the controllers to re-initialize themselves from scratch. And, oh wonder, all error messages are over and the solar panels are recharging the batteries. Phew! That merits a treat, a cool Alsterwasser!

But wait, why is our internet gone? What happened to the Redbox? Restart – nothing! Again – nothing! And again! So remove and examine. OK, lights are on, so there is electricity. Then try to establish a LAN connection via cable to PC. Does not work! Conference with the manufacturer in UK… Opening the Redbox and check the board for burn marks – nothing. After many emails the decision to buy two new Redboxes and have them delivered to Panama. It is a grey area in terms of warranty. As you can see, the circle closes. Now we will have to deal with customs again…

For what felt like hours, it looked like there was no way to recharge the batteries. What does that mean? No power means that nothing works anymore. We need electricity not only for the various devices needed for sailing. No electricity also means: no fresh water, no toilet flush, no fridge, no freezer,  no charging of electronic gimmicks, no fans, no charged telephones, no lights, no position lights or anchor lights. In short, panic was the order of the day. In such situations it is best to let Mathias search for the causes in peace. Questions such as „Did you put the plug back in?“ will assure to let him hit the roof, even if this would actually be the cause of the problem at hand. 

And finally Mathias had to find someone to mount the pulley from the old alternator to the new alternator. There are, as we now discovered, two versions of this alternator, and Mastervolt promptly delivered the wrong one… That was another $37. Now only the final check is pending, but Mathias does not dare to do it yet…

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Electronics

Without the WLan connection of the marina we are a bit Internet-handicapped. Mathias mobile still provides a data connection but with reduced speed, which is not enough for e-mails and web pages. At least WhatsApp was still working. Since roaming charges for normal phone calls are outrageously high (it seems that there is always a connection fee of 15 Euro), WhatsApp telephony is important. I wanted to remedy the situation by buying a cell phone with a Panama Sim card and unlimited data transfer. That worked out well. But the simple prepaid cards are somehow blocked as routers. The hotspot over this cell phone does not build up internet pages in the computer. Connection via USB is still to be tested, only, a program that lets Mac and Android communicate has to be found first. But it is not quite as bad, a replacement for the router has been ordered, Internet via the new cell phone works, only the webpage operation is difficult for some time. That is one reason, why this blog entry took so long. 

Mathias mobile can now make phone calls and receive text messages again. That didn’t work for quite a while. We exchanged the sim cards of his and my cell phone, that transferred the problem, so the failure was not the cell phone itself. The remedy was the exchange of the sim card, Mathias took a replacement sim card along, when we left. Very foresighted. 🙂 Sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t easier in the good old times, when people communicated from the sea by means of a message in a bottle and after a long journey still shouted: „Land in sight!” instead of: „I have network!” On the other hand, in those times communication was not without danger, as Moitessier reports, who in daring maneuvers with his small boat approached large merchant ships and shot the message in a bottle on board with a slingshot. 

The frustrating state of my no longer working keyboard has also relaxed.

My favorite electronics corner store in the train station had a compressed air spray to clean the keys. But since I wasn’t really convinced that this would work, I took another look in their window on the way back. And aha, there were keyboards in the window! They were USB keyboards which cost only $12. Just what I needed. I took one with me on the off-chance. That turned out to be a wise decision. The cleaning was not successful, there must be a broken plug or contact that controls the whole row of keys. But the USB keyboard works with my computer and I am able to enter text directly again and don’t have to take the detour of another computer and Airdrop plus copy-paste. The only little catch: The keyboard already has a problem with the letter „s“. I always have to press the key down very hard, I already have a sore muscle in my left ring finger 😉

In the store they gradually know me, when I showed up there twice a day, they asked where I actually came from.

The next visit followed when we needed button cell batteries. No problem for the corner store, even a very unusual size was found somewhere in their storage. The button cells were for our tan generator for one of our bank accounts, which we use to charge one of our credit cards. A not unimportant device. However, we still would have backup in case of need, because our daughter is equipped with comprehensive powers of attorney at home. 

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Always something to tinker with:

Mathias used a windless day to exchange the wind sensor at the top of the mast. This was still a problem that needed to be tackled. The action was successful, now the data of the wind force are reaching our instruments again. 

In the meantime the small diving bottles have arrived. At YouTube you can find different videos about these instruments. Some of them warn against it and call the devices fraud. One I found quite reasonable, a young diving expert tested the bottles. Apparently, what you have to consider is that it is not a toy and you should not dive deep with it. But for our purposes, namely the air supply during cleaning work on the hull, they are suitable. Inflating with the hand pump takes ages. This is one of the reasons why you will not have fun with these things if you want to use them for longer snorkeling. I have already tried a bottle once. It worked, but it takes a lot of getting used to. It is not for nothing that the video says you should do a dive training before using the bottles. I think I did not breathe evenly enough. The purpose of the exercise was to check our propeller once again and remove new growth. For the coming week more wind and waves were forecasted and therefore it is necessary to be able to manoeuvre in case of emergency. 

The bubbles are where the propeller is being cleaned

The weather was quite windy for 2 days, up to a little over 30 knots of wind and about 1 m of wave. Which meant that we rocked a little bit in the swell. The anchor slipped in the muddy and clayey ground for about 12 m altogether. The wind direction was parallel to the land, so that we had enough space. A nice example to show that even the calculation and extension of the anchor chain can not always bring additional safety. In this case only a larger anchor with a correspondingly larger shearing area would have helped. Our neighbouring ship had shifted (re-parked) to the other side of the headland, for more protection from the waves. But the sabd there is not better and the anchor field is much fuller. We thought a slip in the full anchor field would have been even more dangerous. The swell did not bother us much, a clear advantage of a multihull. When the weather has calmed down, we will correct our anchor position again. 

Tracks pattern after staying at one spot for several months.

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Bureaucracy

A time-consuming task was trying to find out if there is a visa extension. Yachts are still banned from sailing and the neighbouring countries have not yet reopened their harbours. The German embassy does not help in such matters and only refers you to the Panamanian authorities. There, the corresponding internet page does not open and the hotlines in Spanish are of little use to me. With Instagram or WhatsApp chat requests you don’t get an answer. 

The information flow of the German embassy is quite poor. Changes to the curfew are best looked up at the American Embassy website, they bring the information faster and more detailed. The last change of curfew was announced by the German Embassy only one day after it came into effect and is still incomplete. The restriction that the sexes are only allowed to go out on different days only applies to some provinces and not to the whole of Panama. But for this information I now know the website and the Twitter channel of the Panama health authority. But without my rudimentary knowledge of Spanish it would probably be almost impossible to get enough information. First of all you have to find the texts you want to translate with DeepL. 

On the first Friday, when longer hours were allowed, I met with our neighbour and we went to the immigration office. The information on the Internet about visa extension was not clear and the German embassy still persistently refused to obtain any information. In short, we set out on our way. There were a lot of people waiting in front of the building and there was also a queue, but Susi simply asked the guard at the entrance and as a European you could get in and get a number at a counter. These numbers were then called up very quickly. At the corresponding window they called an officer who spoke English and after talking to two different people one after the other we got our information. We are allowed to stay in the country with our entry stamp until the end of October, then we would have to pay a fine or leave the country. You have to leave the country for at least 7 days, then you can enter again for 180 days. Why the German embassy does not manage to pass on this quite simple regulation as information to German citizens remains a mystery. 

The extension of the visa until the end of October suits us well. Costa Rica is slowly opening up again. If we can travel there from November to January, we hope to be able to leave for French Polynesia from February next year. There are still new hurdles to overcome like a new health insurance and a corona test or a 14-day full quarantine in Costa Rica, but nobody expects anything to work smoothly anymore. 

French Polynesia has now allowed traffic between the atolls and has also opened up again for tourism. In addition, the teachers and officials from France are exchanged there every 2 years. The new wave has now come and with them the Corona cases are rising. It is to be hoped that the situation will not deteriorate so much until next year that all ports will be closed again.

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Length of the Anchor Chain and the App

Mathias is not easily discouraged in terms of keeping himself busy and so he still continues working on his anchor chain length calculation. As the crowning glory of easy usability, he is now in the process of programming an app for iPhone and iPad. Despite the initial hurdles of such an undertaking, like learning the appropriate programming interface / language, the project is making very good progress and is already functional in a first simulation version. Our son has also designed an icon. So there’s not much work left before the app can be released, only the documentation, a rating function, further improvements to the info fields and and and… I knew that the message „The app is ready'“ should be taken with a pinch of salt 🙂  And then there will be the task to port this app to Android…

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Those who do not have a job will create one

Mathias has now been on the road by bicycle. The first time he started quite late, when it is cooler. The supermarket was a little bit full that day and Mathias arrived back here in the marina shortly after 7 pm despite his fast driving. At 7 pm the curfew starts and it is also dark. Therefore I was already worrying. Was he picked up by the police? What do I do if something is going on? Well, everything was fine.

The next time he was riding his electric bike again, just before the supermarket he missed to notice the rain gutter on the pedestrian bridge and bang! A huge hole in the tube! Too big to fix. In such a case I would have taken a cab, after all it is a folding bike 😉 But Mathias doesn’t let himself get upset so easily by adverse circumstances. He turned around and started the way back on foot, which is about 12 km to walk. Quite an achievement. As a former passionate cyclist, Mathias knows the saying: „If you love your bike, you push it.” He exaggerated a bit and changed: „If you love your folding bike with a broken tire, you carry it“. You can imagine that he arrived back here quite exhausted. And this time it was also clearly after curfew. From 7 p.m. on, there is always a police patrol on the street to see if the curfew is observed. Mathias was approached by them, the broken tire counted as a reason and he didn’t have to pay a fine. That evening Mathias never left the couch again. I am now contemplating whether he should get a private curfew 😉 

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A few more small success messages at the end:

The bike was repaired quickly, we have several spare tubes since the last flat tire problem 🙂

The test of the newly installed alternator was successful !

The new Red Box Router has arrived and we have once again fast Internet for the computers on board ! 🙂

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