| 3:00 PM local time, Thursday, March 21 (2000 Mar. 21 UTC) 09 24 N 085 25 W. Temp. 89, Humidity 67%, Cloud Cover 20%. Off the coast of Costa Rica, close-reaching in eight knots.
Greetings from the crew of Maverick.
We have elected to stay along the coast rather than take the offshore, "clipper" route back to California for a few reasons. One is that unlike most cruisers heading to the South Pacific from California, we did not go to Mexico first, have never cruised there, and this may be our only chance to sail the waters that cruisers effusively praise. Although we've heard some good things about Costa Rica and El Salvador, current plans have us continuing northwest as long as conditions are favorable and fuel holds out. Secondly, this route may give us an opportunity to be visited one last time by Theresa and Caroline before the end of the voyage.
Thirdly, while we believe that Maverick's hull is sound or we wouldn't be out here at all, there is a small ding in the unalloyed faith we had in her before our little contretemps in Carriacou. As Mandy of Rich Reward said, "She'll have to prove herself to you all over again." Mandy is doing a solo circumnavigation in the company of a separate boat sailed by her parents. She and her husband had bought the boat and were outfitting her for a world cruise, when, before the project was completed, he was diagnosed with cancer and soon died. She finished the work herself and now, at age of thirty-two she's already been cruising for a few years and though she has been injured a few times, she is undaunted and bright-eyed. We left her and her parents at the end of the Panama Canal, where they were to head west.
Coastal cruising presents a different set of challenges from the ocean passage. Currents and winds change around headlands and capes; we may see land breezes and sea breezes; there is a lot of traffic; there are usually fishing boats and nets to look out for; navigation has to be more precise; you don't have the space to maneuver that you do at sea. On the other hand, it's possible to duck in someplace for shelter, and you can motor all you want knowing that you can fuel up along the way. The section we're on from here to San Francisco will be the longest coastal passage of the trip, longer than the Straights of Malacca or the Red Sea or even the Mediterranean, although some of each of those were not strictly speaking coastal trips. The majority of it is upwind and upcurrent. We're moving as far north as fast as we can now while the conditions are benign in order to buy ourselves some time later so we'll have the luxury of waiting for good weather to make progress.
In Panama City I met a cruiser coming in from the Pacific who seems to have been unnerved by the amount of shipping traffic coming on the approaches to the Canal. He had a fairly scary encounter with a big ship that didn't answer his hail. We didn't have any problems and the shipping wasn't very heavy compared to the area around Singapore or the Suez Canal, but perhaps we were just lucky. Anyway, on my rant some time ago about safety and big ships ("A Man-Overboard Story") I mentioned that a lot of cruisers complain they can't raise the big ships on 16 and I suggested some reasons why this might happen, and here are some more thoughts.
When they come close to someplace like the Panama Canal, the guys on the big ships have a lot on their minds. They may well be talking on another channel specifically for big ship maneuvering, like 13. They may be on the radio to the ship's agent, or the Canal Authority for scheduling a transit, or tug captains for maneuvering, or the foreign equivalent of the VTS we have in San Francisco, which acts sort of like a flight controller at an airport, except for ships. So you can't depend on being able to reach them in these areas, which doesn't mean they don't care about hitting you. Despite what seems to be the common view, NO captain is indifferent about hitting another vessel, even a dinky little sailboat. This is because even if he has no sense of morality whatever, and there of course is not any reason to assume this is the case, the legal hassles and delays would be tremendous and he doesn't want anything like that on his resume. But he's human, and he's busy. So do what the books say and stay out of the lanes or cross them at a 90-degree angle. Here, where their maneuverability is restricted, THEY have the right of way.
Out at sea when there appears to be a possibility of collision there is a different set of problems but you can help by fashioning your hail in the proper way. This sort of call is not out of the ordinary for these ships; it's part of everyday business so you shouldn't be shy about it, although there's no reason to be a pest, either. They have right-of-way situations with other ships, too, it's not just with little sailboats, and they handle them on the radio. Luckily for you, the international language for this sort of thing is English. But it's not very helpful to call in a panic on 16 with "Hey, big ship, I'm a sailboat and you're about to hit me!" The range of your radio is about twenty miles or so, so there is a circle about 40 miles in diameter, and everyone in the circle can hear you. You need to let them know which ship you're calling, and so do it the way the container ships or the military call other big ships. You say, "Merchant vessel five miles west of Fantasy Island, at approximate position lat/long., on a course of approximatel---degrees, I am the sailboat on your port bow. Do you see me? Over." You don't have the gear the Navy does on your boat or you could give them an exact position, course, and speed, but use your best guess taken from your own position and this will give them enough to know if they are the ship you're calling. Give it a few tries and if there is no response, think about heading out of the way. On our entire trip, we've only had to call a dozen or so times in this type of situation, and have usually been successful, but not always. As I reported before, the captains are as a rule cooperative, polite, professional, and sometimes chatty.
Except in its relevance for classical history, when Corinth's isthmus played a more major role, Panama hosts the most important isthmus on the planet. When, for example, North and South America split off from Pangaea at the end of the Mesozoic, South American marsupials, whose origins reach back into the Cretaceous, flourished with the separation from their placental predators. The earliest marsupial fossils are found not in Australia, but in South America, around 65 million years ago. Then, when the same general group of tectonic processes that created the Sierra Nevada, the Andes, and the islands of the Caribbean finally sewed the last piece of Central America together at Panama in the Pliocene, say two million years ago, the placental mammals from North America crossed the new bridge to South America and eliminated almost all of the marsupials, four entire orders including a saber-tooth tiger, in a geological heartbeat. Extinction is just another day at the office, for Mother Nature. The Llama (Lama glama, believe it or not) of the Andes, the well-known relative of the camel, is one of the invaders. After coming south, they became extinct in North America.
One more note on the San Blas Islands for cruisers thinking of sailing there: We have up-to-date, large scale charts of the entire island group and can tell you that there are dangerous reefs that are definitely not on the charts. I would limit myself to daylight when moving between islands.
Our friend Renee on Wandering Star, after reading the description of a boat's motion at sea in "'A Different Drummer," gave us her version of the Beaufort scale, on which the mildest sea state is "Irritating."
Reader Bob Filby, an old friend of the Captain's for whom life has been both generous in its gifts and creative in its tribulations, has written in to chide the crew of Maverick as "weenies" for going through the Panama Canal instead of around the Horn. Mr. Filby, who is first and foremost a talented artist but also an architect, home builder, land developer, agriculturalist, raftist, deer-hunter, dealer in rare coins, purveyor of succulent plants, and expert on Bigfoot, has added a new field of endeavor to this impressive list, that of the armchair weenie. Apparently Mr. Filby's wish is to become a real-life weenie. Don't just dream, Bob. Come aboard and we'll break you in easy. Get in touch with your inner weenie.
In a recent addition of "'Lectronic Latitude," the internet edition of the popular San Francisco sailing magazine, the Captain is pictured with his "family," the Fellers of Berkeley. Generously and wisely, Mr. Fred Feller seems to have, in the Captain's absence and without his knowledge, adopted him. Needless to say, the Captain is overwhelmed with gratitude, and he also wishes to take this time to remind Mr. Feller of how little trouble he has been to raise, how seldom he was a discipline problem, how few the times he needed to be bailed out of jail, and, to be frank, how frugal has been his upbringing. Surely a man of Mr. Feller's station will now see the prudence of establishing for the Captain, his only male heir, a substantial trust with which to provide for his further education and support the sort of lifestyle that will continue the proud Feller family tradition. I really love you, Dad.