19 February 2013

Polar Behrs

It is around six in the evening. Jane and I are sitting in the cockpit eating grilled chicken breast and peas and rice, Jane has a rum and coke; I have a Bombay Sapphire martini with blue cheese stuffed olives. The sun is full and slants down between us and the Panamanian mountains, dark and majestic under their clouded skies. The air is hot and humid, but a breeze blows deliciously every few moments.

...rewind eight hours...

We have nine knots of wind right on the nose, except during intermittent squalls when it picks up to as much as twenty knots--from the wrong direction, forcing us to give up some of the precious way we have been able to make. Each time the rain lets up, the wind shifts back again but also drops down. We make less than 10 miles of progress for the day (though we actually sail more than twice that much) because we chose to go offshore and sail rather than motor. We chose to sail because we're down to one engine, not the engine that can power our batteries (or, incidentally, heat our water), that engine produced an oilterial spray a few days ago the cause of which I am unable to diagnose. Now it alarms the minute we start it up. So that engine is on injured reserve until it receives the proper mechanical attention. The solar panels, which supply a prodigious amount of power to our batteries on sunny days are all but useless thanks to the same clouds that periodically burst open and spill down upon us. And no, not even our generator will save us, the generator, that for eight months we were enfeebled for the want of, the generator that Elvis, the mechanic in Cartagena fixed, the generator that we have dubbed Elvis in his honor, that same generator about which we merrily intone "Elvis is in the house!" every time it starts up, because Elvis is not. Elvis refuses to turn over--again. 

Meanwhile, on the demand side, the chart plotter uses up a lot of energy. We have a backup solution: a chart plotter app for iPad, but it would be unwise to use it; it's a little wet in the cockpit (not as wet as it would have been pre-bimini, but still, a few drops of water is all it would take to fry it dead). Otto, our autopilot, also uses up more energy now that Jane has figured out how to increase its response time, a necessary adjustment as it has been causing JOY to wallow dangerously on certain points of sail when it holds a course at all. Running two freezers doesn't help, but with our generator, a star player in our energy lineup back in the mix--or so we thought--we've been gearing up for our Pacific puddle jump. In other words, we're pouring out energy and now have no way to put it back. A perfect storm.

Jane keeps looking for anchorages that are ever nearer to our current location as it is clear we'll make very little headway at our average speed of 4.2 knots, only half of which is to the good due to the tacks we have to take.

Had we known it was going to be squally, which we couldn't, we probably wouldn't have attempted to sail, but just motored up the inland route praying that our one engine hung on. (How monohullers do this all the time, survive with one engine, we do not begin to understand.) As it is, we have to use the engine for so long to first get us offshore, out to the deeper water where we can sail and then later, back in to shore to our anchorage that we probably didn't save any engine time for all of our prudence.

...rewind eight more hours...

[Continue to Part 2]

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