46′ Sailing Cat, Panama – Costa Rica #130

Last month, we had just completed a Panama Canal transit, from el Carib to the Pacific, aboard a new 46′ Leopard sailing cat. We took a mooring in front of the Balboa Yacht Club. First thing the next morning I said goodbye to the owner and his friends. They were a hilarious group.

The hard part of the delivery was over. Boats, weather, the sea, all make sense to me. Humans? Not so much. I went back to the boat and to clean in advance of my own crew’s arrival. I switched off and isolated the stuff we wouldn’t need: aircon, generator, freezer, icemaker (that’s a tough one). If it’s not on, it can’t break. The boat was ready for our cruise north to Mexico! 😉

On easy (downwind) deliveries, I’ll usually take one crewmember with me. Someone I know or have sailed with. He/she usually gets paid. Upwind, or for more challenging trips, we take a third whose only job is to ease the watch schedule. The third is often someone I don’t know, from people who have contacted me or from Hank’s crew list – Sailopo.com. The third crew doesn’t get paid and flies themselves in. What’s in it for them? Some offshore miles and a steep learning curve .

What makes good crew? I would sum it up by saying that the crew’s job is to make the skipper’s job easier. Sounds selfish, but when the skipper is left to focus on weather, routes, trim, fuel consumption and range, maintenance, anchorages and marinas, owner communications, officials and documents, transportation, money, etc.; things go smoother for everyone.

I got lucky on this trip. I invited a friend from the docks back home and our third was an older CG licensed commodore of a sailing club. As the skipper of power boats all his life, the commodore had to adapt to our sailing and motorsailing operations.

The crew bar was set to a new high by my friend Octavio. I had to do a lot of explaining to owner and insurance company about Oc’s lack of offshore experience. I don’t consider that a factor in my choice of crew. What Oc does have is adventure experience and a calmness, which is invaluable at sea.

I rounded up the boys and we got their gear stowed. We had lunch at the club. I speak enough Spanish to make these trips easier but Oc is fluent. We negotiated an hourly rate for the cab. We scoured Panama City for parts and did the big food provisioning. Our agent, Tina McBride, would have our departure paperwork in the morning. Back at the boat we secured everything for an upwind sea, got cleaned up and got to bunk late.

And finally … we were at sea! And zooming downwind in the big beautiful new cat. Did I mention I had the entire starboard ama to myself? Picture this: a king size bunk aft (pillow-top view of the helm through the hatch). Moving forward, rows of drawers, hanging lockers and a desk. A big head with stand up shower forward. Large viewing ports all along the hull.

We rounded the bottom of the Golfo de Panama and started making our first northing. Oc made beans and rice. Ya, he cooks too. During provisioning, he bought cheap, good for you, food-of-the-earth stuff. He made a big hot meal every day, so us non-chef types wouldn’t have to eat out of the can. Off to starboard, lush green hills drifted by while brilliant sunsets kept us entertained to port. Sunny, warm, some clouds; nice cruising.

And we had some bumpy times, as expected. The afternoon breeze would kick up that perfect short swell that brings out the jerky motion and loud banging that cats have made famous. Though these cats have dual motors I only run them both when parking. The second motor only gets you about one knot more. Skippers with power boat backgrounds tend to want to power into swells, both motors a-chuggin’. That’s a lot of extra engine hours and juice wasted. Not on my watch.

When heading to weather, I still use the one motor and deploy a tight sail and crack off the wind and swell. My VMG goes up. With less wear and tear on boat and crew, I’ll beat the smokers everytime. And when there’s usable wind, we sail, and this boat hummed. We all burn fuel in our day to day. It’s how our infrastructure is currently set up. But there are ways to decrease the burn rate while increasing our quality of life.

And then it was time to sail. Log entry: “1828: motor off and screaming 8kts in 14t. Quiet, flat, cat conditions. M1 H0” That’s 8kts boat speed in 14kts true wind. My Low Key won’t do that. And that was with a reef in the main and full headsail. Oc spent his off watches that day cooking … a turkey. Back at the Mega 99, I had sent the commodore for frozen chickens, they help the fridge chill (and they taste good). He came back with a turkey. It came out perfect. The crew, and the fish that could keep up, ate like kings for next few days.

We cruised into Marina Papagayo in northern Costa Rica at 0400, intending to catch some Zzz’s at the fuel dock. I figured they’d wake us up at o’tooearly and we’d fuel. But security was on us with flashlights and walkies, they didn’t want us to tie up. Tied up, Oc did the negotiations. They figured out we weren’t going to leave and offered us a slip. I guess we’d fuel on the way out.

The slip was only $104 but it was $350 for the check in, check out of CR. That price had gone up. It’s a good scam. You used to be able to do the whole process right in the town of beautiful Playas del Coco. No longer, you now have to do the trek into Liberia (where Capt. Bitchin spent time in prison on our Lost Soul cruise) to get the paperwork done. But difficult checkins are what happens when the agent cuts the port captain in for a piece of the greenback pie. So I won’t be back.

This being my last visit … I figured we should live it up. The marina is spectacular. It’s surrounded by steep green hills. The bright buildings, lusty cantina and immaculate docks, crown a beautiful swimming pool area. There’s a shop, nice showers, laundry, a computer room and even a TV viewing room complete with a dozen loungers. The commodore was in heaven as he was a big football fan and it was Saturday. Our paperwork got started and wouldn’t be done until Monday. On the brightside, the agent’s assistant, who tended to us, was supermodel quality. At least our top dollar was getting us something.

After a quick interior wipe down I sent the boys off to play. Oc is an ocean swimmer so he jumped in and headed out across the bay. He ran into a sea snake which made sense when he learned the bay was called Bahia de Culebra. I washed the boat and checked motor fluids etc.. I shot off some emails to the owner, the next skipper, the blog and my better half. And I checked weather. I’m still using passageweather.com, awesome, when ashore.

The crew and I had a great dinner in the cantina (Dorado salad’s worth a go). Afterward, we took turns getting beat by the locals at table shuffleboard. Good guys, good times. More next month …
Quality, Balance and a Clean Wake

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