Cruising with Soggy Paws
Soggy Paws is a 44' CSY Sailboat. In 2007, we set sail on a 10 year around the world cruise.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Soggy Paws has Eyebrows

Sitting here waiting for weather, with the sewing machine newly tuned up, has been a great opportunity to work on sewing projects.

The latest project is 'eyebrows' for the dodger.

We have 2 big awnings that cover the whole boat. One goes from the mast to the forestay, and the other goes from the mast back to the arch in the back. However, we rarely put them up because (a) it's a big production to haul out and put up and (b) we never know when we'll get slammed with a thunderstorm and gusts to 40 knots. But having a little sun protection, especially just in front of the dodger and over the main cabin area, would be a good thing.

So we sketched up a design for what Dave calls 'eyebrows'. A relatively short, flat sunbrella awning that we can leave up in fairly substantial winds. I made it in 2 pieces (one strip for either side of the mast). They fasten to the hard dodger top on the outboard side (just grommets and line), and fasten together under the boom at the back, and go forward to shrouds outboard of the mast. They turned out pretty good and we're congratulating ourselves on a good design... something that's easy to put up and leave up in most weather, and gives us some sun protection and some rain protetion.

Labels: ,

Friday, October 10, 2008
The Saga of the Sputtering Tohatsu - Part 3
We finally did resolve the issue with our 15 HP Tohatsu.

After taking apart and cleaning the carbuerator 4 times over the last year, it did turn out to be the carb.

We took the motor to the Tohatsu dealer here in Panama, and they did a full workover of the motor. They found a couple of minor things. But when they brought it back for a test drive, it still didn't work any better.

The mechanic had insightfully brought a new carbuerator, just in case. When he swapped it out, the motor worked perfectly. They said that sometimes the carb just gets boogered up.

So it cost us the price of a new carb, and some labor, but it's now performing properly. We have the old carb to keep as a spare. Dave wants to try to rehabilitate it some day when he has nothing better to do.

Labels: ,

Back in Panama City
Well, we're back here in Panama City.

After about 3 days of enjoying the extra amps our new generator gives us, the battery charger in our Heart Freedom 20 Inverter/Charger went out.

Dave spent a day in the Pedro Gonzales anchorage troubleshooting things. We borrowed another Honda genset from a friend and made sure it wasn't the generator. Then we called Xantrex (the new owners of Heart) and got some troubleshooting advice. When Dave exhausted everything we could think of, we headed back to Panama City to see if we could hook up with the Xantrex Authorized Dealer.

Well, it turned out that the Xantrex rep is in David, the second largest city in Panama, and a 4 hour bus ride away. So we opted to instead take it to a local well-recommended electronics shop. (Electronica Ancon in Balboa, near the YMCA). They took it apart and did component level testing, and found a couple of relays that seemed to be burned. They replaced the relays and it seems to be working. Dave will install it this morning and check it out. Whew! I hope it works.

Meanwhile, we've taken our sewing machine to the local Singer place. We're supposed to go back to pick it up today, with a handful of Sunbrella and the normal thread we use, so he an do a final tuning on it.

Unfortunately, while screwing around in Panama City, we may have missed a very good weather window to go west. The wind came out of the NE yesterday, for the first time. And it's supposed to stay that way for today, and then switch back to SW and blow like stink for a week. :P

I can't quite figure out what weather features are creating the big wind, other than maybe the 2 hurricanes off the coast of Central America, much further north than here. My grib files only go out 6 days, and I don't see any letup in the 20kt SW wind. Bleah!! The highs and lows move around but the wind doesn't seem to change.

We haven't found a 'Chris Parker equivalent' over here in the Pacific, to help us learn how to read the weather patterns. There's a guy that forecasts further up north, but not really down here.

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 02, 2008
Hanging out in Pedro Gonzales
We left Balboa on Saturday and have been hanging out at Isla Pedro Gonzales in the Las Perlas islands of Panama.

When we got here on Saturday, in this normally quiet beautiful anchorage, we anchored in the middle of a 'weigh in' and sponsors party associated with a fishing tournament. We found 3 sailboats and literally 50 fishing yachts in the anchorage. There was a canopy with tables and chairs and a band on the beach. Lanchas were running back and forth carrying people into the party. They didn't invite us.

The cruisers gathered on another cruising boat, RDreamz, to watch the fun. Fortunately Phil and Leslie on Carina had been thru one of these before, and said that most of the boats do not spend the night. True to form, all but about 6 boats left soon after dark.

We've been doing 'boat projects' and socializing with the other cruising boats. A couple of boats have just arrived from western Panama (and before that, Costa Rica).

So we've had a couple of happy hours, a trash burn on the beach, and a potluck on the beach.

Above: Philip & Leslie from s/v Carina

Dave got our dinghy wheels mounted. They are huge but effective. Thanks to Jim Yates for lugging them down in his luggage!

You need them here because the 15-foot tide create very looooong beaches for dragging the dinghy up and down.

We have commissioned our new Honda EU2000i generator. It is a quiet, light, but very effective gasoline generator. We were able to buy one here in Panama through Marine Warehouse for $1100 (you can buy them in the States for about $875 delivered). It is the size and weight of our sewing machine, so it is easy to move around, and store it down below when we're on the move.

Dave made a plug that goes from the generator 110v outlet to our normal 30amp 110v shore power plug. Our Link 2000 has a way to limit the load that the battery charger draws (Power Sharing = 10amps) so we don't overload the generator. With this on, it starts out with a 60amp DC charge and then does the normal step down as the batteries come up.

Though Dave is an avowed solar power nut, we have found that trying to live on 100% solar power during rainy season near the equator isn't cutting it. We have 2-3 day stretches where we aren't getting enough sun to keep up. So we will use the generator to fill in the gaps and save wear on the engine. So far we're really liking it.

Our Outback solar controller showing 30amps going into the battery, late morning on a sunny day.

We ran a new halyard for our Code Zero sail yesterday, and Dave wanted to route it inside the mast on the way down. So he spent yesterday cutting a hole in the mast to let it out.

We've spent some time swapping cruising info with the boats headed into the Caribbean, and info on Panama and Golfito, Coasta Rica for us. Both Carina and RDreamz are headed into the Pacific this season, so we've also spent some time swapping info with them.

I have also been working on understanding the Pacific weather products, so we can figure out weather windows. Unfortunately, it sounds like getting to Costa Rica from here is going to be another nearly upwind and maybe upcurrent slog for 400 miles. Fortunately it's light air season, and we don't have to do it all in one jump.

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 27, 2008
Watermaker Project, Installment #57
We finally said goodbye to our friends on Caliente last week. They left to head north for the Rio Dulce.

So now, no more excuses, and starting to get low on water. Dave's first priority was to get the long-awaited water maker running.

We picked a good anchorage with few distractions, and anchored away from the crowd. But within cell phone coverage, in case he needed to call someone for parts or information. (In the 'back of the Swimming Pool' in East Holandes).

Dave told me he had 'only another 2 hours' to get the water maker running. 2 days later, we finally cranked it up. Dave spent nearly half a day, just re-reading his notes and making a checklist for commissioning the thing... to make sure we didn't make a mistake that would break something (like we did in Providencia).

When we finally fired it up, we were very glad to find that it was working just as expected. It started producing fresh water within about 5 minutes, and amazingly had no significant leaks (you wouldn't believe the number of hoses, valves, and connections that all have the potential to leak).

We had to let it run for an hour to get the preservative out of the membranes. In the last half of the hour, I started catching it in a bucket to do laundry with. But, at a flow rate of 35 gallons per hour, I ran out of buckets pretty fast.

The next day, we ran it for another hour to really make water. It is really good water and we are really pleased. Way better than the rusty crap we got from Guanaja, the cistern water we got from Bocas, and the river water we got from Portobelo.

Now we are just fine-tuning things. Dave is not quite sure what flow rate we can push it to without overtaxing the membranes (we have a few questions out via email to our water maker gurus). I am making a 'user's guide' on the computer, with startup and shutdown checklists, and pictures showing where the valves are. Once you understand the system, it's not that difficult. And Dave has all the valves labeled pretty clearly. But my memory isn't that great, and if Dave became incapacitated, I'd
need something to remind me what to do.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, April 13, 2008
More Boat Maintenance in Paradise
We stayed a couple of days in the East Lemons anchorage, helping our friends on Caliente with their engine problem.

Our cell phones no longer get a signal out here (Movistar service), so the Iridium satellite phone was invaluable in calling Panama City and Miami for parts & information.

The problem Dave and John were working on was associated with alternators and the drive shaft. Apparently John had added a big alternator some time back, but not properly mounted it, and moved some as the engine was running. The movement caused wear on the splines of the pulley that drove the alternator but also drove the water pump that cooled the engine. He dismounted the alternator (he has a generator he can use for battery charging), but needed to examine the situation closely before he continued.
Losing his engine cooling halfway to Honduras wouldn't be a good thing at all. Dave was also worried that he might damage the crankshaft, which would be a major deal to repair.

The big obstacle was that the nut holding the whole assembly together was huge, and nobody in this end of the San Blas had a socket of the right size (1 11/16). And the nut was recessed, so several clever suggestions by Dave and others to get the nut off were useless.

John finally called Arturo, the guy who runs Marine Warehouse in Panama City, and asked him to go find a socket and send it to us out here via one of the puddle-jumper airlines that fly into Porvenir. Amazingly, the socket arrived 2 days later. John still doesn't know exactly what Arturo charged him for the service, but it was invaluable.

We loaded up both crews on Soggy Paws and took a day trip over to Porvenir (about 5 miles from the East Lemons) to pick up the socket from the airport. We needed to check in there anyway to pay our Kuna Yala cruising fee. And besides the parts, Caliente was out of rum, and we were also looking for a Cable and Wireless cell phone sim card. We found a nice Kuna-run restaurant on what used to be Smithsonian Island (2 islands west of the one with the airport) for lunch.

Within an hour after returning to his boat, John had the nut off and he and Dave took a good look at the situation. They decided that the situation wasn't too bad, and that removing the big alternator, adding a big washer as a shim, and properly torquing down the nut, would make things good enough for John to make it to Honduras/Guatemala without too much trouble. We motored for about 3 hours yesterday and John says the engine seems fine now.

Also while we were sitting there waiting for John to resolve his engine problems, Dave saw another boat in the anchorage with a Tohatsu 18HP (same basic model as our 15). He went over and talked to the guy and asked to take a look under the cover at the throttle linkage. He also got a Parts Manual on CD, to complement our service manual.

The guy also said he'd had a similar problem with his motor while it was still under warranty. After a lot of diagnosing, the cause turned out to be the wires running from the throttle to the rest of the ignition system. When the throttle was twisted, sometimes, two wires touched together, causing intermittent problems. He's going to check this out soon.

Dave still hasn't had a chance to try out the new pulsar coil for the outboard that John picked up for us in Panama City. But when he took resistance readings on the new coil, it reads the same as the old one. So he isn't hopeful that it will solve the problem.

We are still (theortically) only an hour away from firing up the watermaker for the first time. That's probably job one on OUR list, once Caliente leaves and we get a few days to sit and catch up on our own maintenance issues.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, April 01, 2008
The Saga of the Sputtering Tohatsu - Part 2
March 27, 2008

Originally this was in the 'Bocas del Toro' entry, but it turned into such a tale... This is Part 2 because Part 1 was the 5 or 6 days Dave spent working on this same problem while we were in the Rio.

While we were at Bocas Marina, Dave asked around and found cruiser who was reputed to be a good outboard mechanic. Dave has already spent about 20 hours working on the problem (runs fine at idle, runs fine on a plane, but just knocks, coughs and chokes when trying to accelerate). We didn't want to pay someone to re-do everything he's already done. We needed someone who really understood outboards, and would listen to Dave, provide guidance, and let Dave do the work (both as a learning experience
for Dave, and to keep the costs down).

Dave did most of the work (with Sonny advising at critical points) and he spent the better part of two days (between rain squalls) working through the engine troubleshooting guide. (I had been fortunate to find a downloadable service manual for the exact model, finally, for only $15, and we had good enough internet here to download it (after 3 tries).

Sonny is a cruiser who lives on a small sailboat with his best friend (a cute Skipperkee). He is rumoured to have 4 degrees to his name. He works on the approach 'If I can't fix it, you don't pay'. This was perfect for our purposes, because we knew it was not going to be easy. He is also a guy who does not like to be stumped. After the first day, when they had run out of easy ideas, he called Dave on the radio several times late that night with questions and suggestions... obviously it was bugging
him that he couldn't figure out the problem. Finally they (think) they have tracked it down to a faulty ignition coil. Once we had the correct specs and some tips from the manual on how to check it, all signs pointed to a coil with not quite the right amount of resistance, which means the spark doesn't develop with enough voltage. Dave felt Sonny's input was helpful, and they'd probably located the source of the problem, so he paid Sonny $60.

Then it took some doing on my point on the computer to try to locate a coil and get it here. Tohatsu dealers are not exactly a dime a dozen around here (if you're going to cruise the Caribbean, buy a Yamaha!).

I spent several hours online and finally located a dealer with an online store in the States, with prices, who said they had it in stock (in the States). So we placed an order to be sent to Sam in California (a friend of Caliente's, who is flying here this weekend). Then we headed out cruising for a few days in the Bocas area.

We had placed a couple of requests in the comments section of the order... 'No Signature Required' on the delivery and 'Get it there by Friday' (5 working days from when the order was placed). Well, this totally UNHELPFUL place would not ship 'No Signature Required' even when we said we'd assume the risk. Since there's nobody home at Sam's house during the day, then it had to be there on Thursday instead of Friday (and we'd hope that Sam could figure out how to get it in his hands on Friday).

Now remember, internet on a boat not connected to a dock, in Panama... it ain't like having Roadrunner. We literally had to pick up the anchor and go to a wifi 'hotspot' and circle around for awhile, to get the internet connection to do the communications. Finally, after a couple of emails, on Monday morning, when we were expecting a confirmation that it had been shipped, the #$%@!&&^%!!! jerk at Online Outboards ( emailed us that he'd canceled the order because we were placing
unreasonable demands on him and they couldn't guarantee service. Talk about unhelpful!! We had just wasted 3 precious calendar days and a lot of time and were no closer to getting the part.

We spent more time online (circling in another wifi hotspot we found, seriously) trying to find a place in California that had the part (so that shipping was less of an issue), but really, the problem is that everyone wants to sell $2000 outboards, they don't want to bother with stocking and selling the $70 parts. And 2 stroke outboards are banned in California, so there isn't much demand for them there.

Finally, I got the bright idea to check to see if there was a dealer in Panama or Costa Rica. We located and called the Panama City dealer ( Wow, what a surprise. The guy spoke english, had the part, and offered to send it on a plane to us in Bocas (a common thing in Panama) for $50, which INCLUDED SHIPPING. But... we had to go to the airport and send $50 cash in an enveloped (marked 'Documents'). This is also a common thing in Panama. We did. Our part is supposedly at the
airport waiting for us this morning.

March 31, 2008

We did finally get the part in our hands, but didn't get a chance to install it and try it out until today. We were again totally bummed to find out that this ignition coil did NOT solve the problem. There is a definite different in resistance readings between the old and new coil, but the engine still has a significant acceleration problem.

John on Caliente is going to Panama City today, so we might have him try to pick up another part from Tohatsu Panama. Dave did some more reading last night in the troubleshooting section of the service manual, and found another part, the pulsar coil, that could lead to acceleration problems. It states that if the pulsar coil isn't working, the engine might run well at some speeds and not others. This resembles our problem. Maybe this is Part 3 of the Saga...

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 30, 2008
Buying a New AB Dinghy in Panama
Friday March 28

We have been waiting to get to Panama or Cartagena to buy a new AB dinghy.

Dave's old Alliance RIB is still holding air (most of the time) and looking pretty good, but it's 10 years old. We figure it would never make it around the world. Dinghy prices for Caribe's and AB's are $500-$1000 cheaper here than we were quoted at 'Boat Show Prices' last November in St. Pete. Though there is a Caribe dealer in Bocas, we really wanted an AB. The AB has a more upturned bow, and so tends to be a little drier than the Caribe. We did go look at the Caribe and get a price, but weren't
really serious about buying.

We heard via the cruiser grapevine that Marine Warehouse, based out of Ft. Lauderdale, had AB's, and could ship them to anywhere in Panama. (

At the Bocas Marina, a Marine Warehouse 'dealer' keeps an office (sometimes). Apparently the dealer, 'Daniel' (pronounced Danielle, he's French I think), also has a charter business, so he's sometimes there and sometimes not. Sometimes he has a girl in the office but she doesn't know anything other than when Daniel might be coming back.

Dave finally found the office open and inquired about getting a dinghy. Of course this is Dave, and when asked 'what model', we needed to go study whether we wanted the 10.6' standard (with bow locker), the 'Very Light' model, or the 'Alumina' model. (More hours on the internet locating the AB site, finding specs, comparisons in weight and features, etc).

Finally, we placed an order with delivery in a week, for an AB 10VL RIB, for $2650 USD plus $140 for delivery to Bocas.

However Daniel then went off on another charter and 'the girl' came running down the dock the next day telling us that there was some problem with the delivery on Thursday as Dave had arranged. After several phone calls and emails, to Arturo, the head guy for Marine Warehouse in Panama, we think we've gotten it straightened out.

The delivery issue was basically because the trucker who was bringing the dinghy from Panama City to Bocas, was taking off for the Easter weekend, and slightly changed his schedule. We think it will arrive today (Friday) on the truck. (but everyone who's been here awhile sort of rolls their eyes and tells us we'd be lucky if it's delivered on time).

Sunday March 30

Well, 'everyone' was right. The trucker stopped off to see his girlfriend or something, and didn't arrive until Saturday. Fortunately Daniel was still around. Dave optimistically went with Daniel to meet the ferry, to get our dinghy right away, so we could leave. We've already delayed our departure from Bocas for 2 days waiting on it to arrive. I was sure it would be mid-afternoon before Dave completed taking delivery (including making sure we had a Bill of Sale and Certificate of Origin, so
we can get it titled in Florida). But by 11am he was back at the Bocas Marina, pumping it up. Though it rode on top of the truck from Panama City, it seems in good shape.

We still haven't sold our old dinghy, so now we have 2!! The new one is on the foredeck and the old one on the davits.

We are advertising on the local nets, and with a paper ad when we find a convenient bulletin board, and I'm sure someone will be interested eventually.

Business would be brisker if there was more of a dinghy theft problem around here! (In Bocas, no one seemed to lock their dinghies, saying they hadn't ever heard of an incident).

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 09, 2008
Maintenance Day
There is a weather window for going further east, but we feel the need to sit here for a few days and get some stuff done.

Yesterday Dave finished recommissioning the dive compressor, so we are ready for some remote diving opportunities.

Today he needs to finish trying to get the 15hp outboard working right. It has never really worked properly since we started using it (Dave bought it used in the Keys in 2006, but never really used it). He has had it apart 3-4 times while we were in the Rio, but nothing seemed to help. (The problem is... it runs fine at low speed, runs fine at high speed, but has trouble getting up on a plane and transitioning from low to high speed). It has always seemed like a carburetor problem, and he's had the carb apart 2-3 times, but has never really SOAKED it in carb cleaner. That's today's chore. Hopefully this will really solve the problem.

While he's working on mechanical issues, I need to haul out the sewing machine and do some repairs that I didn't get to while in the Rio Dulce. First on my list is overhauling the cover for the windlass (restitching, new chafe protection, new velcro). I have several projects like that on my work list.


Monday, January 14, 2008
Porthole Gaskets Replaced
My job in the last few days, in between tending Dave up the mast and shopping trips ashore, has been to replace the gaskets in all the portholes.

On Soggy Paws, there are 6 small porthole up forward, 9 large portholes aft, and one strange one in the cockpit. All have 10 year old gaskets, and about half of them were leaking a little, even when dogged tight.

My job was to remove the porthole cover (the bronze and glass part that swings down to latch the porthole shut), pry out the old gasket, and glue in a new gasket with contact cement. It's pretty simple.

Old Porthole, New Gasket

We 'water tested' the first few that I did... sprayed the porthole with the hose to see if we could force a leak. All the new ones seem watertight.

We expect a few miles 'slogging to windward' in the next few months, so this was an important job to get checked off before we set out.

Labels: ,

Nice Shiny Clean Bilge
With confirmation that the engine was running fine, with no leaks. Dave set out to clean the bilge. The normally oily spot under the big diesel now shines white. The murky spot under the main cabin sole, very deep and dark, is now clean (not quite shiny white, though).

Fortunately (for me), Dave is the only one with arms long enough to reach down to the really nasty part of the bilge.

Note Dave's 'cruiser shorts'. These are 'favorite shorts' that should have been tossed a year ago. At least they are properly repaired with sail repair tape!

Labels: ,

The Engine Still Runs!
This morning Dave fired up Mr. Perkins and he rumbled to life like a good diesel should. No leaks (oil, water, or other). The transmission was exercised and went forward and backwards as expected. Yahoo!

Labels: ,

Ground Tackle (Anchor) Maintenance done
While we were here in the Rio, tied up to a dock, Dave sent the anchors and shackles off to Guatemala City to be re-galvanized. (It's very cheap here, and they do a good job with it). We got them back quite awhile ago but hadn't finished up the re-assembly.

Yesterday we unloaded all 300' of chain from the primary anchor, into the dinghy, and end-for-ended it. Dave filled the dinghy with fresh water so the anchor chain also got a nice freshwater bath. When we loaded it all back in, Dave re-attached the shackles and anchor so we're ready to go.

We also got to see how Dave's 'distributed chain' scheme worked. We have fed the last 100' of the chain through a PVC pipe underneath the V-berth and the cabin sole, down to a spot in the bilge, just forward of the mast. This is to distribute heavy weight low and in the center of the boat. It fed up through the tube just fine... needed a little hand tugging occasionally, but we didn't have any rock solid jams.

We had to hand-feed it back in, to get it to flake into the bilge area properly, so it will come out easily again. But it only took a few minutes to do that. We will rarely use that 100' of chain, but it's nice to have if we need it.

Everything's in good condition, this also verified that the Tigress Windlass is working great, too.

Another thing off our departure list!

Labels: ,

Sunday, January 13, 2008
Rigging Work Done
After 1 ascent of the mast by me and 8 ascents by Dave, we have finally replaced all the upper and middle mast tangs, mounted the new tricolor light, mounted the lighting spike and mounted (and unmounted again) the spinnaker halyard bail.

Dave brought with us from States 4 sets of mast tangs that he had Rick Heim from Gulf Coast Industrial Repair of St. Pete, fabricate to his specifications (316L stainless). (Dave highly recommends Rick for any metal fab work). A set consists of 4 pieces of stainless and a very large stainless bolt. (see pic below, of 2 sets).

These are to replace the 30 year old tangs that is the last piece of original standing rigging (besides the mast itself) left on the boat. The originals were 304 stainless. They appear OK, but you never know until the worst possible time, when something like that might break on you. So before we did any major ocean passages, he wanted to get these replaced. When he gets a chance, he'll document the whole thing in his Workshop section of the website.

Labels: ,

For older posts, see the Posts by Date
or Posts by Topic links in the upper left!
For newer posts, see our 2009 Blog