I’m currently back at the Shelter Bay Marina next to the Panama Canal. I’m waiting for a weather window to head north to San Andres. The average winds between here and San Andres in March are 14 knots and they are out of the northeast 90% of the time. That would make for a great sail. Since I’ve been here, the winds have been northeast alright, but it has blown 20-25 knots five out of every seven days and the seas are big enough to toss around the container ships anchored outside the harbour. I made these observations while waiting two weeks for an autopilot part. The part has finally arrived, but my weather window has not. In the meantime, I’ve fixed pretty much everything fixable, and polished pretty much everything polishable on the boat. And still, the winds just won’t die down. So, I am going to do some writing. I haven’t done any blogging this year because, frankly, it hasn’t been an interesting year.

It seems the place to start is the beginning. I arrived here (Shelter Bay) in July. It was sweltering hot and the start of the rainy season. The first thing I did was go into town to buy an airconditioner. I had already suffered through the heat of several summers both here and in Cartagena, Colombia while working on my boat. Once I found out how cheap a window unit airconditioner is, I realized there was absolutely no reason to go through that again. Windsong was out of the water in the work yard where the heat could be felt to its absolute maximum. My parts shipment left home just after I did and was due to arrive in a couple of weeks. While I waited, I cleaned everything and assessed all of the ship’s systems to see if anything new had gone wrong over the winter. Windsong hadn’t undergone any major trauma apart from a lightning strike in Cartagena that destroyed most of her electronics. Mainly, she was just 41 years old and it need of a lot of paint and TLC.

Eventually, it became apparent that my parts were not arriving. When I investigated, it turned out that they rapidly made their way to Miami where it was determined that some required paperwork was missing for their shipment to Panama. Instead of contacting me, or the store that shipped the stuff for me, the shipping company just let it sit there in Miami. Well at least it was finally on its way. Meanwhile, I began sanding and prepping the deck for painting.

Windsong’s deck has needed painting since I bought her 15 years ago. I’ve been avoiding the task because it is absolutely monumental. It started with sanding the entire deck, grinding away any cracked areas, then rebuilding them with fibreglass. I also found two areas where the core was rotten so I had to cut the surface off, dig out the rotten wooden core, glue in a new core, then fibreglass the surface back on. Then I had to fill in every imperfection and sand it smooth. And remember this is all done in 35-40 C (95-104 F) heat with 90 to 100% humidity. I didn’t dare to start the next step, which was the removal of deck hardware, until my shipment arrived. This would create a huge number of holes in the deck and it rained every night and about half of each day.

My shipment finally arrived!

My shipment finally arrived!

On August 11th, my parts finally arrived. Working on a boat in Panama is nothing like working on a boat back home. At home you start working on a job and discover that you are missing an essential part. You swear, then drive 10 minutes to the hardware store or chandlery, buy the part and get back to work. In Panama, when you discover that you don’t have a part, you swear a lot more. Then you wait until tomorrow morning to take the bumpy hour long bus ride to town and check out the local hardware stores and chandelries. There is about a one in three chance that they will have the part. If they don’t, you have to special order it from Miami. It will take about two weeks to get here and the shipping may cost more than the part. (This is why you need to swear a lot more!) Because of this I had attempted to determine every part I would need and had it all shipped from Canada. Of course I overlooked plenty of things so I still had to special order tons of stuff from Miami.

Now that my parts were here I could start the work in earnest. I had the mast taken down and removed all of the deck hardware. It was enough fittings to fill a five gallon pail. Of course once all those holes were open it began to really pour rain. Fortunately, I was able to rent a large storage locker so I could keep most of my stuff dry. One particularly problematic hole was in my hanging locker (closet). No mater what I did, I could not stop it from leaking. Eventually, I just removed everything from the hanging locker and let the water run through it into the bilge. It kept pouring for days. It got so damp inside the boat that I had to alternate between running the heater and the airconditioner to try to dry it out.

Finally, the rain let up a bit. It still was far from ideal working conditions. Everything was covered in dew until about 8am. And by that time it was usually up to 35 C. There was at least one rain squall everyday, and you had to quit by five because that was when to no-see-ums came out. There is truly no more maddening insect. Their strategy is actually to drive you nuts so that your blood pressure will go up and your blood will flow better when they bite you. You can’t see the damn things so you aren’t sure if you are really being bitten or simply losing your mind. And the bites both hurt and itch like hell. Thankfully, they stayed out of my airconditioned boat. With out airconditioning they are inescapable because the fly right through screens.

It was a great relief when the deck was finally painted enough to start reinstalling deck fittings and making her watertight again. Eventually, the deck was finished, the aluminum parts were all painted, and her new through hulls were faired and antifouled.

On September 19th, I finally launched. It was so sweet to feel the deck move under my feet and to enjoy the cooling effects of the water. But, I was still no where near finished. I still had to varnish all of the exterior woodwork that had been removed to paint the deck, replace the standing rigging (the wires that hold up the mast), step the mast and replace all the lightning fried electronics. Of course there turned out to be more missing parts, more swearing, and more special ordering things from Miami.

There were many other repairs and alterations, but the story of the refit is really best told in pictures:

Click to see a photo gallery of Windsong's refit.

Click to see a photo gallery of Windsong’s refit.

Eventually, everything was done. I was able to relax below decks on a cool evening thinking about when I should depart. That was when I heard a loud meowing coming from on deck. I opened a porthole and a furry little face popped through it. After examining me and deciding I was friendly, this crazy kitten with a giant tail jumped into my cabin and proceeded to check the place out. After much wrestling with me and poking through every inch of the cabin, she had pretty much made me fall in love with her. I wanted so badly to name her “Stowaway” and sneak off with her. But I imagined someone else must love her just as much, so I stuck her back on deck and went to bed. In the morning my breakfast was interrupted by a guy walking down the dock with the soaking wet kitten under his arm, wondering if she belonged to me. He had found her in the water unable to climb back out onto the dock. The marina came to life with people searching for the owners of this poor half drowned kitten. When news finally came through the coconut telegraph that the owners had been found, it was also rumoured that they didn’t want her.

I couldn’t believe that was true, but my friend Chris aboard Blue Wind (who had been my neighbour both in the yard and in the water) looked into it. It turned out that the couple had just signed aboard a yacht and were leaving their boat behind in Shelter Bay. The kitten was named Bandida and they had rescued her off the streets of Cartagena when she was only a couple weeks old. They couldn’t bring her with them to their new jobs aboard the yacht and needed someone to take her. I really could have her!



With her new ship’s cat aboard Windsong was finally ready to set sail!