Thursday, March 19, 2015

Bird Poop and Shipwrecks

"Faith" is a fine invention 
When Gentlemen can see - 
But Microscopes are prudent 
In an Emergency.
-Emily Dickinson

A once graceful bow..


I was going to write a blog a bit ago about the hazards of life at sea.  It was going to be about bird poop, barracudas, and shipwrecks.  Then I thought that it wouldn't go over too well so I shelved it.  Well, it’s back again, mainly because Saturday evening we witnessed a shipwreck with an amazing amount of seafaring pandemonium. It brought back the thought of this topic.

But first, in the Bahamas at Warderick Wells there is a national historical site where legend has it survivors of ships that terminated their travels on the rocks.  They engraved the ship name and the date in tribute to life continued, a gratefulness to surviving tragedy at sea.  They dated back into the 1700’s but were hard to read.  Shipwrecks have been here since ships.

Lost 1874

Lost 1707

Lost 1810 and 1821

Wrong Side Up!

In the San Blas Islands there were a plethora of modern boats that littered the reefs.  Some were as recent as the week before.  The Captains turned a little too early or a little too late.   So I determined that shipwrecks will continue as long as there are ships.

A new shipwreck in Panama

Lost a week before Sea Angel's arrival

And yep, if you are out here long enough, you can experience them.  Saturday evening, after dark we witnessed a shipwreck.  We remain here in Balboa a neighborhood of Panama City, on a mooring ball, in what I had deemed was the most comfortable and safest place on this side of Panama.   To set the stage, Panama City is about 1.3 million people I think, huge skyscrapers, very modern looking from afar. What I have found though is the cover of the book is not always a good indication of what’s inside. I have found myself wondering how it could be that Panama City could look like a 1st world country, consider itself a 2nd world, but really seems to be eeking its way out of the 3rd world.  There doesn't seem to be concise organization or planning, which leads to some interesting situations. IE, during the rainy season the bases of the skyscrapers are under water, with a front page article picture of a guy sitting on the roof of his flooded Maserati. The whole bunch of the ex-president Martinelli cadre is being arrested and put in jail by the new administration. There is not a Home Depot in town that has a plumbing fitting. It is a bit disjointed I discovered. And so is life on the water here……

Suncat, morning after with mast alongside
Suncat, the morning after the wreck, trampoline & crossbar
On Saturday night, a large charter catamaran was returning to the dock here after dark.  It was loaded down with about 25 fun seeking passengers on board.  At the same time, on the way out from the dock was a crew boat, a large powerful tug like boat that runs out with crew and supplies to the ships at anchor in the bay of Panama.   One coming in and one going out.  We heard the crash but didn’t directly witness the impact, but when we stuck our heads out, the two boats were firmly impaled, the tug well into the space between the catamaran hulls.  It was bad.  The radio ignited with activity.  There was a problem with the communication however in that there was no common radio channel, nor a common language.   There was also no common logic.  It was the pitch black kind of dark out, and as we all tried to get our senses focused we realized the crew boat was throttling up and pushing the catamaran backwards at high speed.  The passengers were screaming.  At first, I thought he was trying to drive the catamaran up on the beach before it sank, but then the captain threw the crew boat's big engines in reverse to apparently try to yank himself out from the catamaran. Not a particularly good plan. As he continued to perform this maneuver the mess drifted into a ferry boat. 

Police arrive at the scene
Calamity in the night
By now the passengers were screaming with a deeper level of emotion. An English speaking canal pilot was nearby and managed to get himself by ponga onto the catamaran where he found its captain frozen in panic. We all were trying to get a handle on how to best assist but found no reliable way to communicate. The canal authority doesn't use radios so we were relaying needs and messages inter-boat and inter-language by radio and telephone. The police authority doesn't use VHF radios like all mariners do; they use some other system so nobody can talk to them. Other crew boats arrived and started pushing the mess this way and that, and without interruption in the engines revving, and the thrashing, two little ponga’s (launches) were trying to unload passengers and get them to the safety of the dock.  As a ponga loaded with people was alongside the catamaran, the initial crew boat finally managed to yank himself out from its impaled position in the catamaran, but not without taking down the mast on the catamaran. I watched the snap of the spar and heard the stainless steel rigging holding it up twang, like all the strings of a guitar breaking at the same time.  The mast fell across the top of the loaded ponga. The pilot now on board simply said “we have a problem” as pandemonium escalated. Nobody could find a way to call and have an ambulance standing by. We all feared certain injury. Fortunately, the ponga was close enough alongside that the base of the mast cleared the people with only a few cable impacts. The police boat arrived but would not assist as they were completing a report as to activity thus far.  By miracle alone, and despite the participants attempts otherwise, nobody was hurt.

I decided to revise my initial blog as bird poop and barracudas simply don’t compare to shipwrecks.  Also, I learned if one must shipwreck, it might be wise to do it somewhere else where you at least have a chance of reasonable survival.  Actually I like Panama, I think maybe it just outgrew itself so quickly it missed a few key parts. 

I am getting impatient to continue our journey.  We are now in the throes of the final provisioning and preparations to depart Panama for the Pacific.  We are hoping to leave here on Wednesday, spend a few days in the Las Perlas Islands, and then do the week crossing to the Galapagos where we pick up more crew. Please keep us in your prayers.


Firefly, a shipwreck.

Sea Angel is sailing for a cause.

* As previously reported, Sea Mercy is working to raise funds to assist with the sheer devastation from Cyclone Pam this past week in Vanuatu. From this past week we have come to understand the importance of infrastructure and communication, most notably in emergency situations, and this is part of the journey and call for Sea Mercy during this time of learning and assisting alongside major aid relief organizations worldwide. You can learn more here, and please consider a donation or even a medical rotation if you're able. The people of Vanuatu can use help and prayers at this time. 

Sea Mercy is a benevolent program developed for disaster and critical care needs for remote islanders. Sea Mercy is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) charity with a simple vision and mission to "stand in the gap" with a service delivery vessel, trained health care volunteers, support equipment, and critical care services as island nations develop their "outer island" health care infrastructure, when critical health care need opportunities are present, or when disasters occur. We welcome you to consider donating on our behalf to Sea Mercy - they have several ways to get involved and are so grateful for your support.

Sea Mercy's Corporate "We Care" Program is designed to help organizations attract and engage clients, vendors, and employees in the spirit of social responsibility and provide a wonderfully enriching partnership. There are several ways to participate with "We Care". Visit Sea Mercy's website for additional information. If you know of an organization or would like to involve yours, please share this information forward.


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