Another week at the VooDoo Shelter

Week two on the hard at shelter bay. We finally escaped the VooDoo shelter, only a week later than promised. Still a few issues to sort out, but I’ve got good hope we’ll cross the canal by the end of the week.

Tuesday / Wednesday 18/19, The Panama FedEx mafia

Some parts needed to be sent over to the yard quickly from the US. The supplier website offered us FedEx international priority as their quickest option. No guaranteed delivery date to Panama, but it would seem to be faster than normal US postal services. So Monday morning, before order closing time, we clicked the FedEx option. The supplier, propeller depot, was on top of it and immediately dispatched the parts as requested.

Soon after, the usual email with the AWB tracking number popped up in my mailbox, and we started watching the shipment like a hawk. Estimated delivery time was set to Wednesday, good stuff!

Within two days FedEx moved our parts from Florida to Panama City and it was offered to customs. I was feeling optimistic, Wednesday delivery might be true.

But no, soon after the tracking site showed a customs exception delay message. According to the delay message the description of the parts was not sufficient to classify the parcel. I contacted the supplier whom immediately verified with FedEx, on the US export side all was good.

We asked the Marina to call FedEx or customs to see what’s going on as it would probably be easier for a local to get through the bureaucracy than us, foreigners.

As it turned out, the delay had nothing to do with customs, but with the local Panama FedEx mafia, demanding an extra US$ 165 for ‘processing and handling’. Even worse, we had to go to a local office in the freezone to pay the ransom amount in cash. If they would only accept bitcoin like any normal extortionist

We were baffled, but what can you do! We urgently need the parts as every day in the marina costs more than the ransom fee. There is no other option that to cough up the money and get it done.

Problem though is that the FedEx office is inside the freezone. The freezone is relatively safe, but the surroundings are definitely a no-go zone for foreigners, and as tourists you can’t just drive in. The marina office gracefully offered to provide a car and guide to bring us there safely.

Bridge from Colon to Fort Sherman

After the 30 minutes drive into Colon, we reached the freezone. A huge compound the size of a city suburb filled with trade only stores. To get in we needed to pass the security guards. But our driver was not allowed in, as he is a local Panamanian. We tried several gates to no avail.

Eventually we parked the car outside a gate and went in on foot. Another $5 was demanded for entrance fee, and our driver had to pay a small bribe to come in with us.

Once inside it turned out we were a good 20 minute walk from the FedEx office, so we hailed a cab that brought us to another corner of the compound.

There, a friendly woman who spoke fluent English was happy to receive the ransom and verify the next day delivery.

FedEx office, freezone, Colon

It’s Thursday 10:00am the next day now while I’m typing this, hoping to see the FedEx truck pull up to the Marina any time now.

Thursday 20

Steve came to the boat early as promised to discuss the routing of the transponder cable. He swiftly finished his job. Later in the afternoon the long awaited bearings arrived, surprise surprise. One fits perfectly (after we cut off a piece of the shaft tube). The other one is 1mm to big! With the help of Edwin from the yard office, the bearing is sent back to Panama. to shave off the excess. It should come back the next morning.

The long awaited cutlass bearing

No sign of Segundo to fit the one bearing that fits. He was supposed to be at the wharf to work on this. When we call him he asks for taxi money to come over, we left this to the Marina to deal with, I can’t talk to Segundo any more without seriously loosing my patience.

With nothing left to do in the Yard, team Ah Ma went for some tool shopping. The four of us took the rental to the Cuatros Altos mall. Here we found Edwin hardware. Linda immediately made a new friend, the owner of the ‘Edwin’ empire, Miss Lam from Zhongshan, a ‘village’ next to Macau. Rattling on in Cantonese, we got all the tools that were requested by our skipper for hire.

Edwin hardware store

Next stop would be the the best restaurant in town, Beirut, an upscale Shoarma joint. The food was 500 percent better than the grub served at the Dock restaurant at the Marina. A welcome break from our ‘prison across the bridge’

Friday 21

While our skipper and first mate oversee the works at the yard we spend the most part of the day cris crossing Colon city in our rental car. We first head out to a Chinese restaurant that was referred to us by the friendly lady from the Edwin hardware store. Here we pick up three 20 litre olive oil cans that we can use for diesel storage. The owner of the restaurant refers us to his wife’s bakery, another 15 minutes deeper into Colon. Here we pick up seven more greasy cans. 10 total, that should be enough for now.

Next stop is the hardware store, where we stock up on cockroach, mouse and rat poison, more plastic boxes and some household goods. Linda also visited Damien, the owner of the Chinese mobile shop where she bought a new power bank for our battery hungry phones. Damien and his family run all the phone shops in the Cuatros altos mall and he was most helpful in getting us connected to Movistar phone network.

By the time we get back it’s already close to 16:00, our bearings are finally in, and our shiny propeller was sitting proudly on its polished shaft. Unfortunately, that shaft was not connected to the engine, and the zincs were still not on. Manyana Manyana.

Propeller finally on.

Saturday 22, splashdown

Today should be the day we will finally splash down. At breakfast I discussed the last bits of work and the splash down procedure with Joel. As the fuel system of our engine has been cleaned we won’t expect it to start immediately. The engine first has to be ‘primed’, meaning diesel has to be pumped through the system and all air should be out of the pipes, tubes and hoses. This would take some time once we get down into the water. No problem said Joel, we would be the last boat in for the day, so we can take as long as we need to get out of the crane slip.

The last remaining bits of work were finished by Segundo, at his usual pace. But finally at 14:00 we could collect our crane slip from the friendly lady at the marina office.

A crane slip is a piece of paper that tells the crane operator you paid the yard bills. Interesting how you are held hostage. Fortunately our bill didn’t have too many errors in it. But imagine that it had, you wouldn’t be able to get back in the water until the dispute has been settled.

Ah-Ma getting strapped into the crane

As the big blue crane slowly crawls over the yard holding all 17 tonnes of Ah Ma on two belts we silently pray that it would all go without any issues. The last bits of paint were applied to the bottom of the keel. Touch ups were applied in the spots where the stamps held the hull. She was slowly lowered into the water, finally back into her natural habitat.

We boarded the boat via a gangplank and threw our the lines to secure her in place. Now the crane could release her belts and move away. Our skipper started work on the engine, again we needed to use jumper cables to start her from the house batteries, it seems like the starter battery does need replacing after all.

Then suddenly another needle from the VooDoo shelter was poked in. The crane picked up another boat that was now slowly approaching the splash zone. We weren’t the last boat in as promised after all, so now we need to hurry to get going.

After a couple of minutes and some borrowed diesel from the boat behind us to fill up the racor (fuel filter) the engine rumbled into motion. Only for half a minute before it died down again. Something else was wrong…

Our first mate went down to assist our skipper with troubleshooting. A few starting attempts all had the same result, a few seconds of rumble and then silence. It turned out that the fuel wasn’t picked up from the freshly cleaned tank.

The crane operator became inpatient and wanted to tow Ah Ma out of the crane slip so he could drop the next boat. But with both our skipper and first mate down below working on the engine I firmly told him to wait.

About 15 minutes later, we really had to move. Ah Ma was towed around the corner where she was tied up onto the working dock. Here we could continue to analyse the problem without anxious crane operator breathing down our neck. It wasn’t that long before our skipper came up with the ‘good’ news. The engine wasn’t picking up fuel because the pickup hose in the tank was too short. It’s a 350 liter tank, we put 40 liters in, so about 10%, this wasn’t enough for the pickup hose to catch it. We will try to amend this issue tomorrow or Monday, but for now we’re finally back in the water, but still only 20 meters away from the VooDoo shelter..

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