Travels from September 18 to November 11, 2001:
Life for Nanjo and her crew has been dictated by the weather. At this time in Panama, it is considered the height of "rainy season", October and November. When the rains stay away, half of that time is sunny and hot. As you have come to understand, this formula translates to making solar power and washing/drying clothes aboard the Nanjo. That process hasn't changed much over the time that we have been living this vagabond's life. But you have never seen the process: the solar panels deployed, the washing machine being operated or the low-tech clothes dryer. So enjoy the attached photos and revel with your alternatives.
We try to schedule our trips to town, to David, for those other days that are overcast, without rain. We usually go twice a week. Besides food and Internet, there may be a trip to a machine shop to have a repair-part made; to a material shop to purchase some cloth to make a flag for us to fly as a courtesy when we are in a country we plan to visit (Ecuador); to specialty stores for stainless screws and bolts, electronic or automotive parts. In the past Nancy and I always went to town together, the rainy season has changed that shared experience.
During the rainy season the runoff tends to wash things into the river: Things like sticks, leaves, logs and TREES. Regardless of ebb or flow, when the tide creates a flow in the river this debris washes past the boats at anchor in Pedregal. We had been warned about this. That is why, before we came home in July, we spent two weeks anchoring and re-anchoring Nanjo. We left her tethered with a second anchor attached to the main anchor's chain. One anchor was set for ebb and the other set in the direction of the flood current. It wasn't the anchors that protected Nanjo while we were gone. It was the whim of Nature; during August and September, Panama experienced a semi-draught, the rains were not as hard as usual. But in October, the rainfall became more significant.
One Friday morning, October 19, I was finishing my usual task of fixing breakfast, placing the bread in a skillet to toast it. As usual, I had taken my blood-glucose reading and finding that it was a little out of range, a little high, I had taken my insulin injection a half hour ahead of eating, as is the recommended action for this occurrence. We were just minutes away from eating when I heard a thump at the front of Nanjo. Thinking that a log had bumped into us, washed by the current, I jumped out into the cockpit and stepped onto the deck to go to the bow. I was amazed to see another sailboat's stern sitting on our bow; it was Sayula, a Cal40 out of Seattle, skippered single-handedly by Charlie. Although I was only in my underwear, I rushed to the bow calling Charlie's name. I knew what had happened and I knew we had little time to correct it: Sayula had drug anchor because debris had created too much strain on his anchor's set and had broken it free. As Charlie came topside, I looked at the telltale branches and eddy currents around Sayula's bow. A massive log was stuck there.
Nancy came to the bow to see what she could do and returned to the cockpit to start the engine in case our anchor let loose. Before she could get there, Nanjo began to close the distance between her stern and the huge bow of the steel boat, Shellback, moored close behind. The weight and drag of both Sayula and the log had transferred to Nanjo's two anchors, which couldn't take the load. Things began to happen quickly . . . with me in my . . . Well, I don't go anywhere without my Hanes!
While I was wrestling with Sayula's Monitor steering vane, which was wrapped around our bow pulpit (the stainless steel railing around the front of Nanjo), Nanjo's stern hit Shellback. Things were happening so fast that all Nancy could do was keep out of the way of danger. Shellback's bowsprit (the pole that sticks out in front of some sailboats) began to bend and crush parts of Nanjo as Nanjo was sandwiched between the two boats.
Although the collision happened very quickly, other cruisers and workers on the docks close by mobilized almost as quickly. A panga came along side Nanjo to help tow us off Shellback, while two dinghies converged with their crew jumping aboard Nanjo to help however they could.
Sayula was slowly twisted to port by the log. Her steering vane was still wrapped around Nanjo's bow and Sayula's move to port bent and broke her steering vane, part of it falling on the deck at my feet and part into the water. Fortunately, our pulpit stood up to the strain and our forestay (the cable that goes from the bow to the top of the mast) wasn't touched. However, as Sayula slid down our bow, what was left of the frame of the steering vane punched a hole in our hull, high at the bow and gouged the gelcoat as it scraped by. Now that I didn't have Sayula to worry about, I dashed back to the cockpit.
The dodger was bent severely to port, the stanchion (stainless support for the lifelines) at the starboard "gate" to the cockpit was bent almost flat and Shellback's bowsprit was leaning against the radar mast after bending the starboard support for our stern gallows (where our radar, radio and GPS masts are, as well as the wind generator.) Nancy had started the engine, but because we were so entangled with Sayula, she couldn't power away. A cruiser (Sandy) jumped aboard Shellback and asked Nancy for a knife to cut some rope holding a spare anchor, tangled in Nanjo's davit, off Shellback to make the job easier. After Sandy did his work, Nancy carefully inched Nanjo away from Shellback by putting Nanjo in and out of gear, as one of us would warn about damage. I was pushing the tip of the bowsprit while Sandy tried to guide our radar and davit off Shellback. Finally we were successful. I rushed back forward to get the anchors up. As Nanjo was pulling away from Shellback, upstream, against the current, Sandy dove into the water off Shellback's 11' high bow and swam against at least 5 knots of current to the dinghy he had tied to Nanjo (he is obviously a powerful swimmer, but we just can't fathom that kind of power and effort).
Another cruiser came aboard and began helping me pull up the anchor chain. The weight was far greater than anything I had attempted to lift before. The chain was covered with barnacles and there had been no time to think about getting gloves, so Dominic and I grunted and strained and quickly got to a ball of chain wrapped around the second anchor (Danforth). Sandy, in a dink alongside, helped us get the mess on deck. Then we hauled in the rest of the 100' of chain and Max. During this time, Nancy had kept us just ahead of Shellbacks bowsprit, but now was able to move us further away upstream. It took another 15 minutes to untangle the chain and the anchors, but it was finally done.
Our helpers got back into their dinghies and Nancy helmed us to where we could anchor again. On the second attempt, we had a good set and shut off the engine. It was 0930 and time for breakfast. As we got our thoughts and emotions under control, we realized that I had taken my insulin almost two hours ago. We couldn't believe that I hadn't had a blood sugar "low". The toast was dry, the oatmeal cold, as we discussed what we could have done to prevent or handle the collision with less damage.
After a while, we realized that if this was going to happen things could have been much worse, if we had collided with Shellback a few inches either way. Nothing was broken, only bent. Well, except for the hole in the hull. But the best was that nobody was hurt; after inventory, we still had all our fingers and toes.
Charlie rowed over to us a few hours later and promised to help repair everything damaged. He made good on his word: in the next week, fiberglassing and painting new gelcoat over the hole in the bow. His color matching with the existing gelcoat was very professional. Charlie gave me some stainless tubing so that my stanchion could be rebuilt and then he took it to be re-bent to fit the deck mountings. In addition, he gave us a replacement boathook for the one that had been knocked overboard.
Dominic, on the other hand, demonstrated a true example of the best that boaters can be, helping a fellow boater in need. In his shop at the Pedregal marina, on the first day he helped bend the radar support arm so that our radar wouldn't fall off; several days later, he welded our stanchion; during the next week, he allowed me to use his shop and tools to re-bend our dodger frame. When I offered to pay, he waved it off saying that he would get his reward when something happens to his boat.
Nanjo shows few signs of her collision now. Many of the cruisers who have spent a year or more here have shared their experiences of being drug by logs and trees, some sounding much worse than what Nanjo experienced. The advice for boaters planning to visit this anchorage - be prepared to be snared by debris if you visit Pedregal during the rainy season.
As Nancy and I discussed the facts at breakfast that morning of the collision, we recognized that one very personal thing had been exposed to the entire marina. Now everyone knew whether I wear boxers or briefs! My only consolation is that you still don't . . .
Crew of Nanjo