Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Tale of a Sail - Part I

"We are heading across the South Pacific. There will be a lot of downwind sailing. We should get a new sail for that. We can have it made and shipped to Panama where we can pick it up. It will be so convenient."

Or so we thought.

While in Mexico last spring we began planning for this. We had a new bowsprit welded to the bow of Rhapsody and we had Jamie, a sailmaker from the sailing vessel Totem visit our boat to measure us for our new Code Zero sail.

What is a Code Zero?

A Code Zero is a large sail that goes on the front of the boat, but it is not the colorful Spinnaker you often see. It is a white sail of thicker material than a Spinnaker and more triangular like a traditional sail. Our hope is that it will be more versatile than a Spinnaker and usable in a greater range of wind speeds and directions.

Jamie measured the height on the mast, the diagonal distance to the bow sprit and the distance back to cockpit and sent all the measurements off to Malaysia. The "plan" was to have the sail made in Malaysia and shipped to Panama. It would arrive on the Caribbean side of Panama at Shelter Bay Marina. When we got to Panama we would rent a car, drive across the isthmus of Panama and pick up the sail.

Easy peasy.

We left Mexico and headed down the Central American coast. We made the decision to go quickly and directly to Panama so that we could pick up a long stay visa for French Polynesia, retrieve our sail and head to the South Pacific with a stop in the Galapagos.

And then the world broke.

Somewhere shortly after we crossed the border into Panama we heard that the Galapagos islands were closed. Sad, we thought, but at least we can carry out the rest of our plans.


We arrived in Vista Mar Marina on the Pacific side of Panama, about 60 miles from Panama City, the day before the borders closed. We had an appointment with the French Embassy to begin our visa process on the day that the Embassy closed. Just getting checked in to Panama was a two week process that left us in limbo. Will they allow us in? What happens if they don't? And then the quarantine began.

It happened first on the Caribbean side, Shelter Bay Marina, where our sail was, locked down. We were told that if we could rent a car and get to Shelter Bay they would arrange to pass us the sail through the locked gate. Before we even had time to make plans for that the rest of Panama locked down. No movement was allowed between provinces and Shelter Bay was at least three provinces away from Vista Mar. Check points were set up on the highway and unless you had an official " salvo conductor" or safe conduct pass you could not get through the check points and we had no hope of getting a salvo conductor.

And so we waited. 

Slowly the restrictions seemed to be easing. We saw the opportunity to leave the marina and head to Las Perlas Islands where we would be free to explore. We would not be allowed ashore on any islands that are inhabited, but there are many that are not, and we could set foot on the beach and feel a sense of freedom.

While on one of these beaches we encountered a couple from New Zealand who had just come through the Panama Canal. "Too bad I didn't know you sooner, " I joked, " I could have had you pick up our sail and bring it to us"
"Well," they replied, "we do have a friend coming through in two days, perhaps they could bring it to you."

My hopes soared, could we really get our sail? We didn't have much time to arrange it, and a few hurdles had to be jumped. The manager of the sail loft, Bill, has since returned to England, we had to contact him to have him release to sail to a person on a boat that we did not know, and we didn't know anyone in Shelter Bay to help us coordinate it. In addition, we are in Las Perlas without internet. A quick sail around the corner of the island to be in line with a cell tower on another island and we had a four way communication going, Shelter Bay, Bill in England, Phil in Malaysia and ourselves. All the while the clock is ticking and time zones are causing delays. Noon in Panama City is
6 PM in London, and 1 AM in Malaysia. The manager at Shelter Bay, Juanjo, despite having never met us, went out of his way to make this work.

At last I received a message, "Your sail is aboard Space Grazer, and headed your way. Space Grazer was leaving Shelter Bay, transiting the canal, making a quick stop in Panama City and heading to Las Perlas. Three days later our sail was delivered, and new friends were made. Many thanks, we appreciate all the effort that everyone made on our behalf.

Interesting, the label on the sail says "Boat type- Fontaine Pajot 40" . We have a Jenneau 49. It does say " Code Zero". The label must be incorrect we said, ever hopeful.

We haul the bag to the bow of the boat and begin to rig up the sail. The furling lines seem short, maybe we just need to get longer lines. We clip the sail in and hoist it up with the halyard. It is at least three feet short. We really do have the wrong sail.

Lower the halyard, stuff the sail back into the back and send off some emails. Apparently we have had the wrong sail delivered. This sail belongs to Bill from the sail loft, for his Fountaine Pajot 40. The label was correct, the wrong sail was sent.

So, now we have Bill's sail in Las Perlas Islands, and our correct sail sits on the other side of Panama, still behind a locked gate.

To be continued...

We love to hear your comments.

Andrew Holyoke said...

Murphy’s Law strikes again. Bummer!

Sarah said...

Dang Murphy! Can't he ever take a break?