070808; 1710 UTC,
Isla Brincanco, Parque Nacional Isla Coiba, Republic of Panama
N 07 degrees 52.02' / W 081 degrees 47.65’
We are now happily back in the northern hemisphere after having left Ecuador July 28, 2007. We arrived initially at Isla Coiba, Republic of Panama, after traveling 628 miles in just under 6 days. Since we only started our engine to charge our failing batteries, we ended up sailing virtually for the entire trip. We are now at Isla Brincanco, also in the Coiba National Park, where the local “guarda” warned us yesterday about snakes “cuidado, muchas culebras aquí.” Thanks guys. In spite of the snakes, the shore looks inviting with its lush virgin forest, bamboo and coconut palms. The water is a clear emerald green.
Our sojourn at the Puerto Lucia Yacht Club lasted an agonizingly long four months to the day and, as we left, we were thrilled to be finally “escaping” Ecuador. We are rewarded by owning a boat that looks and sails like a dream, though the process of getting to this point sometimes seemed like a nightmare. Actually, in a very real sense, we did escape. Here is the story along with a few new Spanish words we learned along the way.
When we last wrote, Carina was being painstakingly prepped prior to being painted (sacar is the verb to remove; when we would ask “sacamos este”? (“should we remove this?”), the answer was inevitably “es major” or “it is better”. Every square centimeter was scrubbed and then sanded (“lijar” is to sand, “lija” is used for sandpaper). The hull showed signs of porosity in the gelcoat so Carina ended up with what looked like she was infected with smallpox with hundreds of small epoxied spots that needed to be sanded and faired. We had decided to raise the waterline 2-3 inches so that area of the hull needed to be sanded of its bubbles (“burbujitas” or little bubbles), epoxied, re-sanded and faired.
All the while George Stewart’s crew (of Stewart Yates y Servicios, at the PLYC) was working on the hull, cabin top and deck, we worked on varnishing wooden pieces (such as hand rails) we’d removed and also the below-the-waterline part of the hull. We had left the tedious prep work to George’s crew but, after the hull was stripped of all the old antifouling paint, we repaired some cracks in the epoxy bottom, sanded and faired and then sealed the hull with two coats of chlorinated rubber paint. We then applied 7-8 coats of Hempel antifouling paint (“pintando” is painting). During the time George’s crew was applying the white 2-part polyurethane paint to the hull above the waterline and to the cabin and deck, we were sealed out of Carina and went to bunk with Ed Hoeschen of Kuay where Jake quickly established himself as supreme being. Ed and Philip share a birthday and a whacky sense of humor and his generosity and friendship were a blessing during a long and tedious painting process during which we moved though many emotional swings.
Every thing seemed to be going smoothly for a change so it was time for a mini disaster: George’s guys used an incorrect ratio of thinner and the paint that was applied to the nonskid section of the cabin top and deck developed unacceptable tiny bubbles in the finish (more of those annoying “burbujitas”). Those bubbles had to be sanded off, a painstaking job that had 4-5 guys on their hands and knees for a week tediously sanding between the bumps and valleys of the molded-in nonskid.
When the painting was finally completed the yard guys moved Carina to a quieter and less dusty location in the yard (“cambio lugar”is literally to change location). All we thought we needed to do now was to start to put back on Carina all the pieces-parts we had taken off prior to painting (poner is “to put”). True, we were still waiting for George to get the “Corian” material for our galley sink but it seemed we were making progress.
We installed the new rear chainplates and the bow roller/anchor roller/ bow chainplate assembly. We then moved on to reinstalling the stainless steel trim tabs for the ten portlights and the five trim tabs for the prisms. We were making steady progress until we started to reinstall the side chainplate trim tabs. We noticed a large crack while we were working on one of the chainplates (yikes ..”grietas malas” or bad cracks). Since all the chainplates were original equipment and the same vintage it stood to reason that all should have been suspect. In hindsight, we should have pulled and inspected all the chainplates as soon as we had seen cracks in the rear chainplates. But of course we didn’t do this.
Now we fastened our running backstays and all our halyards to keep the mast upright, then disconnected and removed the remaining six side chainplates; five had cracks, some extremely serious. (Check out our website for photos). Any one of them could have failed resulting in a dismasting, i.e., having the mast fall over and land on you, on the boat or in the water. This was a sobering thought and we reflected on the extremely light winds we experienced on our way to Ecuador and how lucky we were that the wind had not been stronger.
We called George and asked him to order yet more 316 grade stainless steel from the USA with which to fashion new side chainplates. This revelation ended up setting us back at least a month. Meanwhile, we continued to work on the myriad of small and not so small jobs that were still on our list. Each day we would rise at dawn, have a hasty breakfast and work until 1900 or so. Then a shower, supper and back to bed to start all over again.
During this period the time was coming up where we needed to travel to Guayaquil to renew our tourist visas since we were given an initial 90 day visa and could apply for an additional 90 days; Ecuador allows only 180 days in a yearly period. (“Prorrogas” is the office you visit, a prorroga is an extension.) When we presented our passports to the official at the immigration office we were shocked to be told by a rather gleeful Ecuadoriana official “no mas dias!” (no more days!) In our coming and goings between Panama, Peru and Ecuador, we had inadvertently used up our 180 days (it seems it was 183). The official was unmoved and unsympathetic when we tried to explain that we were in Ecuador on a boat and the boat was in La Libertad under repair and unfit to sail. She repeated that she would grant us no additional days to stay in the country; we must leave mañana
We knew we could travel to Peru and then try to return to Ecuador and possibly get our visas extended but didn’t know whether we would be denied entrance back into Ecuador or would have to wait for six months to be allowed back in. We were left with no choice; we decided to be illegal aliens in Ecuador and try to accelerate our work on Carina knowing that, when we finally did leave the country, we would be fined $200 EACH for overstaying our visa and then forced to travel to another country immediately. (“Multa” is the word for fine.) We wouldn't recommend being illegal in a country undergoing political change while you have a disabled boat as it makes for a lot of sleepless nights and near cardiac arrest every time Immigration showed up at Puerto Lucia (which they seemed to do quite often).
Our work on Carina continued, sometimes in fits and starts. George’s crew fabricated new chainplates and we installed them with new bolts (“perno” is the word they use in Ecuador for a bolt). We then re-tuned the rigging. A crew arrived from Cuenca and installed new Corian around the galley sink; we rebedded and re-installed all fittings – our list had seemed endless but we resolutely tackled each item and crossed in off as completed.
About two weeks before we were ready to leave we attempted to buy diesel and gasoline for our journey. We were told Ecuador had a new law that precluded “extranjeros” (foreigners, this word sometimes being used as a pejorative in Ecuador) from buying fuel since the prices were subsidized by the government. After a day in a taxi chasing around from La Libertad to Salinas and back again, the local Minister of Energy (!) approved our purchases, in person at the pump and we were able to refuel. Shortly after, the yard’s Travel Lift gently deposited Carina back into the water and we anchored near the yacht club’s breakwater.
While all this was going on, the Admiral of the Navy decreed that all foreign flagged vessels (those “extranjeros” again), regardless of size, must hire an agent to check into and out of EACH port in the country. The fee was $200 for the round trip and even though we had already checked into Ecuador, our entrance information must be entered into the new computer system and so we had to pay the full amount. We met with our agent, Roque Proaño Párraga, and began this new, onerous process (Roque is a “naviera” or a maritime agent.).
We were Roque’s first pleasure vessel client and he was anxious to set a good example by us so he could win other clients at Puerto Lucia. The poor guy didn’t know how much he would have to do to earn his money. He seemed as stressed as we were about paying our Immigration fines and he’d checked to see if we could pay them locally. No go; we had to go to Guayaquil to the Jefe de Migracion (a “jefe” means chief or boss).
A few days after initially meeting with Roque, a somber-faced Andres, one of the PLYC workers, showed up in the club’s launch as Carina bobbed at anchor and asked for “Don Felipe”. Roque was requesting that Philip come to shore to meet with him and Galo Ortiz, the PLYC manager. In Galo’s office, Philip was informed by a long-faced Roque that there was a “problema grande” (“big problem”). It seems that the Ecuador customs officials in La Libertad decided to enforce an existing “law” that required boats that would stay in Ecuador more than 90 days to check back into the custom’s office. Since Carina did not check back with customs in time we were subject to a “fine” (or in this case a bribe or “mordido” which literally means ‘to be bitten’).
Galo maintained that there was no such law and custom officials had tried in the past to extort money in a similar fashion. Philip started to get angry and asked Roque the amount of the “fine”. “More than a bottle of fine Scotch whiskey; I was told that was not sufficient”, said Roque. Angrier still, Philip insisted we would pay “no fine, nothing, “nada” to this bunch of “ladrones’”, (thieves). Both Galo and Roque looked grave and extremely uncomfortable. Finally, Galo told Philip not to be concerned, he and Roque would work something out.
The next day we learned that customs had clarified the amount of the fine that would be “sufficient” would be 10% of Carina’s value! We both decided that there was no way we were going to allow ourselves to be extorted by this corrupt government and began to think about the possibility we would have to up-anchor just after nightfall and sail out of Ecuadorian waters. This would be our last resort and would cause us grief when we checked into our next country without Ecuadorian zarpe paperwork. Fortunately, escape under the cover of darkness was not necessary; Customs officials apparently backed down when Galo and Roque demanded to see the text of the law they were trying to enforce and to provide to Carina a written “factura” (bill) for the fine that would be stamped as cancelled or paid. Galo and Roque had successfully talked customs out of their demands.
We were sad to leave many friends behind in Ecuador, including our family of boatyard kitties (all seven or eight of them depending on the day) who we left in the capable and loving hands of the vessels Restless and SeaFire, both Puget Sound boats. To temper the sadness, we were happy to learn that our friends, Bruce (from 5th Element) and Olenka, an Ecuadoriana from Bahia de Caraquez, had gotten engaged! They announced this to us (as we talked with them on our Ecuadorian cell phone literally as we were sailing away).
Cruising is about traveling under your own power to distant shores and meeting new people and making new friends but it’s also about departing (“saliendo”) and leaving those new friends behind with a wish to meet again soon…somewhere.
Sus amigos del velero Carina,
Leslie, Philip and el gato gordito, Jake