Dave and I were asked to deliver a yacht from Curaçao to California, via the Panama Canal.

On April 4th we hauled our own boat at TMO, Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela. The following day we went by overnight bus to the town of Valencia, and from there flew to Curaçao.  Taxi to Kima Kalki Marina where the yacht “Colibri”, a Golden Wave 48, had been berthed for the past year.

Colibri is Spanish for hummingbird, but this sloop is not tiny. At 48 feet, she has a 16-foot beam and semi-full keel with a 6.6-foot draft and loads of volume below deck, a 95-horsepower Perkins diesel engine, and a spacious cockpit area. The downside for me was the five-foot diameter wheel, which I could gladly have used as a Frisbee. Other than that, Colibri was a very comfortable sailing vessel.

The next day we started checking systems and getting her ready to leave. Three things were immediately apparent: the engine was overheating, the radar was not working, and the mainsail was in appalling condition. In retrospect we should have convinced the owner to supply a new main, as this sail was to give us many problems and some pretty close calls in the months to come.

Once we had bent the genoa on we saw that the track cars were missing, so new ones would have to be imported. On inspecting the engine we found that the overheating was due to a badly fitted freshwater re-circulating pump. The pulley was loose and in the process of malfunctioning had destroyed the key and the keyway. Fortunately the local mechanic had a new pump in his car, and took the pulley in for repairs, saying it would take about one week.

We then moved on to the radar. The electronics guy came to check and found that the radar cable had been run through the hydraulic backstay fitting and was binding, so every time there was an adjustment to the tension there was a corresponding tension placed on the cable, which of course had by now destroyed the cable. To make matters worse there was not a cable to be found in Curaçao. The electronics guy tried to splice a new length of cable but it was not the same cable and he could not get it to work so we gave up on radar for the time being.

Downtown Curacaó

We initially thought we would be able to leave after two or three days, but with all these repairs, we had a couple of weeks of delay.

When the new water pump had been fitted, we were as ready as possible to leave Curaçao. We checked out and left the next day, motoring slowly out of the marina in light wind. At West Point we switched the autopilot on. It had been working while stationary in the marina but refused underway, so we were faced with the exciting prospect of hand steering for the next 750 miles.

Rio Magdelena                                                                                                        Size of Wheel!!!

Most of the way we had good winds and quite big seas. We also had to motor some way along the coast of Colombia, staying  about ten miles offshore. We motored across the Magdalena River mouth, where the water was brown and wild and we saw wood and logs in the water. Finally we arrived off Punta Hermosa (Puerto Velero) anchorage and went into the lagoon behind a reef. It was blowing 20 to 25 knots but this was a very nice and protected anchorage, a good place to relax after hand steering all those miles.

Punto Hermosa-Columbia

On May 1st, we left Punta Hermosa and motor sailed to Porto Bello, Panama. This was a handy stop for a day or two for a rest and some peace and quiet before tackling the rigors of the city of Colon and the Panama Canal. We put the dinghy in the water — its first time off the deck in a year. After going through three lockers we finally found the dinghy plug, then tried the outboard engine. It started.

Porto Bello

 Shelter Bay Marina, near the entrance to the canal, had a berth for us. This wonderful marina, surrounded by jungle, has good facilities, showers with Jacuzzi, laundry and restaurant. There is also a bus service at 8:00 a.m  to Quarto Centro mall with many shops and a supermarket. It should take about an hour but can take a lot longer as you have to cross the canal. If the locks are closed, you wait.

'Colibri' -Shelter Bay Marina

But that was the least of our waiting worries. We were told there was a two-month delay going through the Canal, as the workers were on a “go slow”. This was not good news as hurricane season was looming and we needed to get a move on.

At least the delay at the canal gave us time to sort out boat problems. The radar set-up on this boat had to be the worst I’ve seen. It was mounted on a gimbaled device on the back-stay about 15 feet up. This really made for some interesting gymnastics as the thing weighs about 30 pounds and I found myself balancing on a ladder trying to remove it for repair. Fortunately we met someone in the marina who had recently replaced his radar cable and had ten feet or so left over. It was for a Furuno but our radar was Raymarine and the two cables are not the same. However, with a bit of cursing we managed to splice them and could not believe that it actually worked, and in fact continues to work.

Also thanks to the delay we enjoyed some of the really nice hikes in this area. There are many abandoned buildings and numerous roads which provide walkways through the otherwise impenetrable tropical jungle, which makes for fun exploration.

]One day we walked from Shelter Bay to the mouth of the Chagres River, 20 kilometers there and back. This river is the main outlet for Gatun Lake in the rainy season and we had once spent a delightful five days anchored in the river. Whiteface monkeys and howler monkeys are abundant on the hike to the river mouth, which is guarded by the San Lorenzo Fort.

                                                                                                                                           San Lorenzo Fort

San Lorenzo Info  –  Many Howler Monkeys

Baby Sloth

Another interesting trip is to take the bus to the Canal bridge and spend some time in the Panama Canal viewing centre and museum, which costs US$5.

                It is interesting to watch massive “panamax” ships going through the Canal, as they only just fit. On the day we were there we were lucky to see a huge Disney cruise ship go through.

Eventually Bruce, the boatyard manager, came round with the new autopilot that had just arrived by FedEx. This we fitted, and in light of all the repairs being done and the ongoing Canal delay, we decided to go back to Porto Bello and wait there till we had a date to go through.

At Porto Bello, we chose the north anchorage, as far away from the busy town as possible, and anchored near the base of Fort San Fernando, one of the three forts the Spanish built to protect the bay in colonial times. We went for long walks, cleaned the hull and stanchions, and polished. We phoned every other day to hear if our date to go through the Canal had changed. They were starting to clear boats more quickly and our date was being brought forward.

Porto Bello- Coco Plum Restaurant

Views over bay

 After ten wonderful days in Porto Bello we returned to Shelter Bay Marina. To get everything done efficiently, we hired Stanley, an agent, who did our checkout and organized the extra lines and tires (for fenders) that we would need for the Canal transit.

The Earth Race boat came into the marina, this boat broke the round the world record.  Sadly, this year a Japanese trawler hit the boat and she sank down in the southern ocean.

             We began our transit on Friday, May 30th. The transit cost US$1,334 including the agent’s fee, and $440 for the four line handlers. Colibri is 48 feet on deck, but when they measured, with gantry and dinghy it came to 53 feet, so we had to pay an extra $200.

The line handlers arrived at 6:00PM. The line handlers were Carlos, a taxi driver; his son, also Carlos; Lee Roy; and José from Peru, all very nice guys. They positioned the tires and got the lines ready. We left the marina and anchored at The Flats to wait for the advisor, who arrived at 8:00PM.

Canal                                                                                                               Overnight-Gatun Lake Bouy

We had supper, and then motored along the channel to the first lock and tied up with two other boats. We were on the outside. The centre boat had a French lady captain and was the same size as Colibri. On the other side was a 30-footer. The centre boat had to drive us through — we just kept the engine idling.

It was very interesting to go through the Canal, an unforgettable experience. The entire Loch is lined with thousands of lights, which illuminate the whole place at night. It took about 20 minutes per lock and there are three locks, raising us 85 feet. We motored out of the last up lock and separated, then motored a mile to a big buoy in Gatun Lake and tied up for the remainder of the night.

             Saturday was a clear-to-cloudy day; thank goodness we had no rain. When the ad-visor arrived complete with a trainee, we dropped the mooring lines and started the long motor through the huge Gatun Lake. On arrival at the down locks we once again tied up together with our Canal buddy-boats, French boat in the middle. Their ad-visor was careless — always talking and not watching — so the boats would drift and almost turn full circle. Our adviser went to talk to him, and they decided to put Colibri in the middle, with the small boat on our starboard side.

Miraflores has two locks, taking us down the 83 feet to the Pacific Ocean. All went well through the locks and we all congratulated Dave as he did a very good job.

               After the last lock we separated again and bid farewell to the other yachts. A Ferry came to fetch the advisors, and we continued to motor toward Balboa, a short distance. We arrived at about 3:00PM, and the shore-ferry driver showed us which buoy to pick up. The mooring cost US$20 per night. The line handlers took the fenders and lines, and then left aboard the ferry.

What a relief to be through the total 50-mile length of the Panama Canal with no problems and good weather, and now to be on the Pacific side.

We spent five days in Balboa buying charts and provisioning the boat, as prices rise as you move further north. It took some getting used to the 16-foot tide changes on the Pacific side.

Panama City, on the Pacific side, is different than infamous Colon at the Caribbean entrance to the Canal. Although there are bad areas, the city on a whole is modern with good shopping and lots of places of interest to visit.

We went to a different park each day and also visited the artisan market;

Ancón -Artisan Market

The Balboa Park, where people jog or cycle;

                                                                                                           Balboa Anchorage

Ancón                                                                                                                             View of Panama City

the hill of Ancon; and the Metropolitan Park (US$3.00 entrance fee). This park is in the centre of Panama City. We walked up to the view site, with views over the city, the Canal and airport, and many birds and animals.

Views -Metropolitan  Park

Red Torch Ginger

We did our last provisioning at the Allbrook Mall. What a surprise: a huge shopping centre and supermarket. As we planned to be moving pretty fast from here on, we plumbed the watermaker so that we would not have to worry about refilling the tanks. Once all the preparations were done we dropped the mooring, filled up the tanks and left for the offshore islands.

Panama Coast

We anchored in 34′ at Otoque Island, a twenty mile trip.

Otoque Island

The following day with the sea like glass, we motored to Isla Cebaco, 160 miles.   Some locals came over to welcome us, and invited us to a barbeque. They were very nice people who own a house on the beach: very quiet and peaceful.

Cebaco Island

Once we were ready to leave we found that the engine would not start. After shutting everything down and waiting for about three hours we managed to get the beast started. New batteries were definitely needed!!!.

As we were now entering an area full of floating debris especially large logs and tree stumps we were trying to make as much distance as possible by day so we motor sailed the 30 miles to Isla Coiba, a Nature Reserve. It is a beautiful group of islands. We anchored at the northern tip of Coiba, saw deer, howler monkeys, and many birds. The following day the security panga came alongside and said we had to pay for the night: $20 per person and $60 per day for the yacht.


Coiba - Sunset


We motored all day and overnight to Golfito.  We entered a huge bay and picked up a mooring.  Some moorings are with Banana Marina and cost $20 per night and are blue, other moorings are white & owned by Land and Sea and cost $6.

Samoa Restaurant

We went ashore to check in to the marina, do customs etc. It cost $40 for quarantine which we did not understand but paid.  We decided to stop messing around with batteries and bought 4 new ones for $700.  On June 14th, we left the mooring and went alongside the fuel dock at Banana Marina, topped the water and waited alongside until they delivered the batteries. We connected and checked that all was working.

The following morning we motored out. We were eight miles out and I was making coffee when I heard a loud noise below.   Dave checked and saw 2 bolts had fallen off the coupling! We decided to return to the mooring, went ashore to buy bolts.  We replaced the coupling and fitted bolts and nuts back with Loktite.

Weather conditions were mostly windless with rain in the afternoon, we motored into Carrillo Bay, 207 miles from Golfito, stayed overnight , then went on to Flamingo Bay.

                  Dave went ashore to see about getting fuel. They parked a fuel truck on the road, and ran a long hose to the beach, so Dave filled the jugs there, then had to carry them to the dinghy through big swells. It took four turbulent trips to get our load to the boat.  On June 21st we motored 18 miles to Playa del Coco in dry Papagayo winds. For the last few miles we had 25 knots and gusting. Great sailing!  We caught a small dolphin fish.

Playa del Coco consists of a gorgeous horseshoe‑ shaped bay surrounded by steep hills and impressive cliffs dotted with beautiful homes, upscale hotels and resorts   Customs was closed over the weekend so went to Playa Hermosa, where we relaxed.

Sunset!!                                                                                                        Mantra-ray

 We returned to Playa del Coco on the Monday to check‑out. There was still no Port Captain so we checked out the following day.   We began with full genoa and main in Papagayo winds blowing 8 knots. We reefed the main and half genoa and still did 7 knots with winds gusting up to 30 knots. We saw many dolphins and turtles.  Off Nicaragua we had to once again motor sail all day and during the night, the wind was blowing 20 knots when the back stay hydraulics ram blew its seals. I heard all the activity and, managed to quickly furl the genoa.  The forestay and back stay with radar attached were swinging wildly. I quickly connected the running back stays and tied them to the gantry.

We decided to turn back and head for El Salvador, 60 miles away. We motored all day into the wind and swells and arrived at our waypoint at 3.30. We called Barillas Marina Club on the radio, and they sent a panga out to meet us. We followed him through big swells between the shoal and sandbank.  The swell runs highest between May to October. May is the month that signals the start of the rainy season and extra precaution must be taken when crossing sandbars.

Jiquilisco Bay is synonymous with ecology, beautiful beaches, abundant fishing, coconut and sugar cane plantations, a mangrove sanctuary and migratory birds.  The attractive marina is located 9.8 miles up stream in the estuary of Bahia de Jiquilisco, where the most helpful guide took our line around the mooring.  The mooring cost $11 per day. Guide service is free and operates in daylight hours only.  Authorities came on board, took all the details and checked the boat below, went ashore with them to do Immigration.  It is a place where one could leave a boat for an extended period of time and travel overland or return home. Security guards check boats and their mooring lines day and night. There is an Internet building with 5 computers, restaurant, swimming pool and trail area, through the gardens, cottages to rent in an immaculate property with lovely friendly people.

          The road from Barillas is a dirt road through cocoa plantations, and sugar cane farming, then onto a tar road to the town of Usulutân, total distance is about 20 miles.   The marina provides transportation service to the town of Usulutân, every Tuesday and Friday. The ride takes approximately 45 minutes and this service is free. We made arrangements with a guide to walk through sugar cane fields and enclosed semi‑tropical forest to see one of the last troops of Spider Monkeys in El Salvador. We watched as “Miguel” called them to feed them, making it an awesome experience.

                        Back to repairs!! The whole hydraulic backstay system had to be removed. Fortunately there is a large fishing fleet at Barillas so we managed to buy a huge rigging screw and shackles.  Now the backstay system is stronger than ever.

At 3 pm, slack tide, we left the mooring and went alongside the fuel dock, filled tanks and went back to the mooring, scrubbed the deck, then washed and cleaned the hull. The following morning at 6 a.m the guide arrived in a Panga to lead us out again to the offshore waypoint.

It  was quite calm out side as we motored along the coast. But the following night off the coast of Guatemala, we had lightning, thunder and a huge cloud mass surrounding us. Suddenly, amidst strong wind and pouring rain, the boat did a 360 degree turn, the autopilot had disconnected,  alarms screamed, Dave came up, very disorientated and got the autopilot back on course. Half hour later the wind dropped to about twenty knots. We had two reefs in the main, and three quarter genoa. We managed to then furl the genoa, and saw the mainsail was torn.  We dropped the main and continued through four hours of rain.

Logs in Water

Dolphins that came along to ride the bow wave and play around the boat for long periods gave our spirits a great lift. We had to go in to Puerto Madero, Mexico, for fuel. During the early hours of the morning, the Navy patrol boat called on the radio.  They wanted to board us, and came alongside but the sea conditions made this impossible, so they said we should follow them to Madero.  We motored for 2 hours to the entrance, and they told us where to anchor.  They then came alongside, 3 guys with automatic weapons, one on deck guard, one in the cockpit and one who went below and guarded the entrance. We were below with 2 other officials; They took all our information, then a dog came on board and searched the whole boat and  they left at  4a.m. so once again we had little sleep.


We decided to go all the way back to El Salvador and leave the boat there for the hurricane season, get the sail repaired etc.  On the way to Madero we noticed a fine coating of diesel in the engine room. This unfortunately mixed with the rubber from the v belts and caused a horrible mess but the engine was running fine so decided to deal with it back in Barillas

We took on fuel and water and went back to anchor, and stayed overnight for a good sleep.  We called the Port Captain to say we were leaving, they called the Navy and came alongside again: the same story all over again. We left an hour later and motored out, wind on the nose. We were to motor for two more days, thunderstorms during the night and heavy rain kicking up big seas making for a very uncomfortable passage.

                EL SALVADOR:   We met the guide at the way point and headed back to the moorings, arriving just in time as a tropical storm was moving in over El Salvador. It brought heavy rains during the night and the following days. We contacted the owner to let him know that, due to all the breakages, return trips to anchorages and other delays we had decided to leave the boat in Barillas, a very safe place, for the rest of the hurricane season. We booked our flights back to Venezuela.    The following few days we worked on the boat, cleaned the engine room, (a big messy job) and checked everything. The mainsail was repaired and returned to us. We found the diesel leak, which was on the overflow banjos: they had not been tightened enough so a fine spray was coming out. We tightened these up and motored up the waterway to see if there was still a leak, or any other problems. Leak gone but on approaching the mooring the sound from the gear box almost gave me a heart attack. It felt as though the back of the boat was breaking up, so another problem to deal with upon our return.

We went by dinghy to the beach for a long walk, on the way back saw a couple of huge Cayman sunning themselves.


We tied down the dinghy on deck and took awnings off.  Heavy thunderstorms during the night and strong winds told us hurricane season was fast approaching. We left Barillas on the August 7th, flew from El Salvador via Costa Rica, and Peru, and landed in Caracas where we took the bus to Puerto La Cruz.

YACHT  DELIVERY continues:(see next Page)


1 Response to “Yacht Del. Curaçao-California”

  1. 1 Barb
    20/05/2010 at 4:37 pm

    Hi, am loving this! What a great job – transports me back to those days.

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