Thursday, March 11, 2010

Gerber Mini Fast Draw Pocketknife

I first became aquinted with this knife when a student brought one to a camp I was working at, and was imediately impressed with its quality and easy of handling. It's not a large or intricite knife, and I suppose that's what appeals to me. It's compact, well made, opens quickly and easily with one hand, and stays shut when you want it to. For young campers, it's size makes it easy to handle as well.
I recently found one for sale in an outdoors store in Panama City, and decided that the $35 price tag was worth it (I'm aware I could have bought one cheaper from other places, but it was an impulse purchase at the time).

Only 3 inches when closed, it's an excelent every day pocket knife. It weighs 1.9 Ounces, so it won't weigh down in your pocket or on your belt. The clip holds very well and I've never been concerned about it working loose and being lost. The blade is 2.1 Inches, and I've found it perfectly suited for fine carving of Tagua nuts, opening boxes, carving knotches in fireboards, and I'd venture to say it wouldn't do too bad at butchering. The quality of the steal is of course very good, as Gerber is well known for their use of superior materials and fine workmanship, and this knife is no exception. I found it easy to sharpen, and it holds an edge very well.
The lock system works very well, which did surprise me. I've traditonaly been a fixed blade user, so I approached the small plastic lock button with a skeptical eye. I'm pleased to say it works as well as the day I bought it.
I live in a very caustic environment on the boat, and many of our knives on board will eventually exhibit signs of rust of corrosion. This knife is holding up very well however, most likely oweing to the quality of the steel. I've also made sure to oil the action with T-9 oil to make sure it's kept in perfect working order.
Another aspect of this knife that appeals to me, is its overall appearance. It's simple and elegant. It serves a function, and looks professional doing it. It conveys it's purpose as a serious tool, while remaining subtle.

Overall, I'm very pleased with this knife. You can find this knife for sale in a number of places online, or outdoors stores. The Gerber product number is 22-01526. This style also comes as a partialy serated blade.

Photographs credited to Trish Budd

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Panama Canal Transit

This is a severely delayed post, but still worth a post no matter how late it arrives. I've found that my experiences worth posting about in Panama occur so often that I have to pick and choose what to write about!

Our transit of the Panama Canal began on January 27th, 2010. The first step in the process is to receive your adviser, a canal official who boards your vessel near Colon. It's an impressive and rapid boarding, as they bring the adviser out on a work boat, which comes just close enough for the adviser to jump onto your boat and they immediatly leave. Our adviser was a man of few words, who had done over 400 canal transits and was himself a tug captain.
We approached the first lock chamber after sundown. Approaching the immense chamber at night in your small yacht is a humbling experience. It's akin to entering a cathedral.

Entering the first chamber of Gatun Lock

The water that fills the chamber enters through holes in the floor of the chamber, so when they fill the lock the water suddenly boils as hundreds of gallons of water flood the lock.

Gatun Locks enormous riveted doors

After making it through 3 chambers, we arrived at Gatun Lake. We were guided to a large fiberglass mooring ball where we would be moored for the night. Gatun Lake is teeming with life, from Howler Monkeys and sloths to Harpy Eagles and Crocodiles. Fishing is not permitted in this lake.

Dredging out the Canal

Impressive terrain inside the Canal

Centennial Bridge

The tropical shoreline of Miraflores Lake

Approaching The Bridge of the Americas

The Pacific and Panama City Skyline

The transit is many things to sailors. A transition, a big step toward the world of the Pacific. The gateway to a whole new coastline for many, and perhaps the hundreds of islands of the Pacific itself. Just crossing the Pacific itself is a huge move forward, as many find themselves unable to make that move out of the Caribbean and onto even bigger adventures. For us this is one step closer to our homeland.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Vegetable Ivory

Everywhere you go in Panama, you can find art produced by the Kuna,
Embera, and Wounaan. Molas and intricitely woven baskets and masks are the most
common, and sell for hundreds in Panama City. Another art form the
Embera and Wounaan produce, are Tagua nut carvings. They are usually
of animals and are decorated with very fine India inks.

Embera-Wounaan masks

The Tagua nut is native to this region and grows in a pod on the Tagua
Palm. It also goes by other names such as Ivory Palm, Elephant Plant,
or vegetable Ivory. The reason for this is the mature nut has the
same colour and consistency of Ivory. It can also be sustainably
gathered, so it can be used as a substitute for tusk ivory. In some
varieties of Ivory Palm, the young seeds are edible, before they
mature and harden.

Ever since arriving in Panama and seeing the Tagua carvings at
Tusipono, we've been looking for raw seeds to carve ourselves. Most
vendors have one to show, but not to sell. Finding a tree we could
collect from was also proving impossible. We eventually happened upon
a store in Casco Viejo that sold raw Tagua seeds for about .50US cents

Tagua in its shell on left, de-shelled on the right

We noticed some have holes from borers, so to avoid any blemishes to
the nut we picked out ones with intact husks. The husk is very
brittle and easy to remove.
The first thing I noticed was just how heavy the Tagua is, about the
weight of a large glass marble, and how difficult it can be to carve.
It's extremely hard to take off large shavings so you must take your
time and use a small, sharp knife. So far my small folding Gerber
knife is working perfectly.

Photography credited to Trish Budd

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Survival Las Perlas video

Here is my Las Perlas survival video. A lot of fun to film and edit, hope you enjoy it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Passage to the Galapagos Islands

From Isla San Jose we sailed towards the Galapagos Islands. With
fresh provisions of fresh fruit and fish, we were well equiped to
handle the 6-8 day passage. We had not been able to download the Grib
files, but reports from other yachts making the same passage indicated
a calm and uneventfull passage. We were even expecting to be becalmed
for portions of the voyage.
An exciting catch outside the Perlas was a juvenile Yellowfin tuna,
our first ever. We made some excelent nori rolls (both cooked and raw
tuna rolls).

During our first watch of the passage, several butterflies, of a type
we had seen hundreds of during our time in Las Perlas, appeared on our
boat while being almost 60 miles from shore. This seemed unusual for
being so far out. My watch ended at 9 pm, and I settled in for the
night, trying to get some rest before my next watch at 6 am.
I was awoken sometime around 10:30 pm, to the boat heeling (rolling
sharply to it's side) violently, as though we had gone off course and
broadside to the wind. Cabinets and anything that wasn't held down
fell to the floor, cluttering the narrow quarters below deck. All our
charts and books spilled from the navigation table into the galley.
The wind had suddenly spiked to 30 knots and we were caught with a
light wind spineker sail up. We rolled so much that water began to
rush in through a starboard seacock, giving the appearance that we
were taking on water. As I held one of the overhead handrails, I was
unable to get both feet on the floor as I struggled to keep from being
thrown to one side of the boat. We had to get the huge light wind
sail down before water made it's way over our sides.
To get such a sail down, we had to turn on the engine and point the
boat into the wind. In winds this strong we would need all available
hands to haul it down.
As the situation progressed rapidly, I heard a sickening sound from
the engine, almost indescribeable, but the obvious sound of something
going very wrong. What we soon realized was the sound came from a
line, recently uncleated, wrapping around our spinning propeller, and
jamming our rudder. In the blink of an eye we were disabled, dead in
the water.
As we stowed our sail, drifting aimlessly in the rough seas, we began
to take stock of our situation. Over 60 miles from land and 300 miles from a proper port, drifting on a 2 knot current out into the Pacific.
Rolling in the heavy waves, we drifted further and further from help,
stretching our ability to make radio contact with Panama or any vessel
capable of helping us. Our eyes wearily scanning the horizon for
lights and continuing to hail anyone who could hear by issueing a
Pan-pan, one step below a full on mayday. Until the answer to our
prayers came over the radio, Captain Graham of S/V Eowyn, an ever
vigilante English captain with years of experience on the worlds
oceans, and a superb radio voice. He ordered his boat to heave to in
open water to keep in radio contact, and served throughout the ordeal
as our faithful lifeline to the rest of the world. Without his help,
I am certain we would have drifted for days.
Word finally arrived that through Eowyns efforts, he had notified
Emergency Coordination Center in the UK, US Coast Guard, Servicio
Maritime de Panama, and the World Cruising Club, all of whome worked
tirelessly to send aid in the form of a patrol boat called Ligia
Elena. All told we drifted from 10:30 on the 13th of February until
8:00 am on the 15th.

Patrol Boat Ligia Elena

My family and myself forever have a debt of gratitude to these people
who worked all the way until we set foot on dry land to assure our
safety of ourselves and our boat, Bristol Rose.
My thanks go out to the Panamanians who offered us shelter upon our
arrival on land. I will omit their names in this post to preserve
their much deserved privacy, but they know our appreciation and
gratitude is likewise extended to them.
Survival situations can appear in a heartbeat, and being on the open
ocean, even in a modern boat, does not exempt you from this reality.
Something someone asked me was if we paniced. I am proud to say we
didn't, which is fortunate. Keeping a level head, and above all hope,
helped us make the decisions and deal with the siuations at hand.
Hoplessness can be just as much a killer as the elements, and can
consume your whole reality. No matter how bad things get, keeping
hope is paramount in walking out of a survival situation.

Something we didn't expect, was as soon as we arrived on land, we were
informed that we had made the local (and global) news. Word had
spread of a distressed, American flagged vessel off Panama, and we had
found our way into a half dozen articles and press releases, one being
as far as India. Even though we felt so alone in the Pacific, it
turns out people we had never met were watching for our safe return.
We even received emails from other countries offering assistance,
should we find ourselves in their waters.

We managed to make basic repairs and are now safely in Panama City to make the boat ready to go to sea again.

UPDATE: Later we found through a Panamanian news source that Ligia Elena was attacked by speedboats a few days after they towed us to safety. One of their crew was shot in the leg, but thankfully survived.