These comments are designed for our fellow MaineCat catamaran owners or prospective owners, reflecting how we manage Navigator in the tropics; the first year on the move, the second year just gunkholing around at 9 degrees North latitude in hot rainy Panama…and perhaps folks will respond, giving us even better advice being that we plan to stay here for years to come. Owners of Leopold cats, Catana cats, Antares cats, and others may find the pictures confusing but MaineCat owners will instantly recognize the settings.
This is a great boat. A unique design, well-constructed, seaworthy, comfortable. This is a great great boat!
Dick Vermeulen...designer…builder…salesman…consultant…repairman,all in one person. There is no other catamaran made with such credentialing. And when you phone the company, he may be the one to answer, or his wife Lynn. You can’t beat service like that.
He has put top-of-the-line equipment into the boat. Sure…that makes it more expensive initially…but you get what you pay for. Who wants a cheaper winch that might soon breakdown.
We are live-aboards (Nancy, Bob, and a Jack Russell dog named “Jack”)…6 months on the boat in Panama, then 6 months home to Maine waters for summer and fall… leaving the boat either on the hard or in the water. Below are comments on ventilation, electrical power management, fresh water management, underway, life on board, toys, maintenance, storage, communication, what works and doesn’t work for prolonged cruising in this tropical heat...
but first let me describe options Dick Vermeulen allowed us in construction of Navigator differing from some MaineCat 41s.
Rather than the port queen bunk, we have a 4 person settee below surrounded by shelves and cherry cabinets giving us privacy, protection from inclement weather, and vast storage. Most cats are built with charter service in mind but we anticipated 95% of the time, it would be just Nancy, myself, and Jack. (The perfect boat: drinks 16+, seats 6 for meals, sleeps 2, and can be single-handed. Yes… we have had 17 in the cockpit, beer cans in hand). When guests do stay on board, they use the port or starboard foc’scle bunks
Without the ‘guest’ queen bunk, we also eliminated the port ‘head’, building instead a port ‘office’ identical to the starboard version. Nancy has her office for her things…I have mine. This affords us separate areas of personal privacy…difficult to achieve on any boat.
No microwave…more storage space instead. No propane grill…we occasionally use a Cobb charcoal grill on a back scoop, but then neither Nancy nor I am great red meat fans. At the T for a propane grill, we have plumbed in low-pressure fittings and can use PanamaGas available throughout Panama where refilling the American propane tanks can take weeks.
(the cushion keeps Jack from
walking the galley counter)
There is continuous shelving below on both sides along the outside wall…more storage.
The ‘Great Room’, as Dick calls it (and can drink 17+), is a 360 degree panorama, sheathed in 360 degree roll up Strataglass panels. We have not rolled down the front panels for months. The rear panels are stored somewhere below but as you can see where Jack chooses to nap, it remains cool with a light breeze even in the mid-day tropical heat. Even in windless conditions, air rises up over the bridgedeck and is funneled aft and out thru the Great Room.
(air funnels through the tube) (and then is funneled out back aft) (Jack's favorite mid-day position)
No need for air-conditioning…and if still too hot for some, we place one of 5 extra portable 12v fans around. There are fixed 12v fans over each bunk, galley area, below settee, and 2 over the queen master bunk. The compass has even found a useful purpose. Air simply funnels through the tunnel ala Bernouli principle
Last winter with months in Georgetown, Bahamas, Sunbrella shades were made to fit 360 around the Strataglass panels. The side shades we leave DOWN all the time except underway when we need the visibility. The Sunbrella shade panels are easily removable going out into Deep Blue while providing a comfortable shade here at anchor.
(side shades rolled down) (Jack behind the shades) (non-skid for drinks 'n stuff)
In Panama, it is hot…and it rains. It rains every day; sometime for days on end. This past December 2010, it rained so much, so continuously, so steady; they closed the Panama Canal for the first time in history, because of floating debris in Lake Gatun. We were safely anchored in the Chagres River 5 miles below Gatun Lake dam and when they let out massive amounts of water to protect the earth dam and the Canal, our river water level rose 5’ in a few hours, propelling us into a 10 knot downstream current, and then the anchor and chain snapping at the rope junction…of course this happens at 11 PM…total darkness. But that is a different story.
As said, in Panama it rains. It rains everyday…maybe a few minutes…maybe a few hours. Onboard in the Great Room…we lift the front cushions up and to the side (as we do every night), and then we move to the aft cushions and later squeegee dry the table counter…or if we know it will rain steady for 24+ hours, only then will we roll down the front Strataglass panels…or simply go below to the settee.
“Rain” brings up the subject of bugs, mosquitos, no-see-ums; Dengue fever, malaria. In daylight…maybe some bug spray applied if the air is stagnant. At night…screens under hatches and mosquito netting across the companionways (those sheets of non-skid on the cockpit coaming hold items on the curved surface and protect the gelcoat where we drop winch handles) . We tried making the Great Room bug proof…but it was too hot; so now we leave it open and go below if needed. Asleep under open hatches, rain quickly awakens you…you hasten around in skinnies closing hatches; the 12v fans still whirling away.
(mosquito netting at night)
Electrical power management:
Dick incorporated sufficient solar paneling to maintain the batteries, the boat, fridge, and freezer in most conditions without need for backup power. Still, being from Maine and using there a heating system …we installed the diesel 2.9 KW Mase genset which is used to boost battery levels for SSB broadcast…or if there is no prospect of sunshine for 24 hours…we will kick on the genset rather than using one of the Yanmar 30hp diesel engines. 5 years and each engine has less than 400 hours; the genset maybe 80 hours. At night we turn OFF the fridge conserving power (which also acts as a mini-defrost). The large 120v inverter is rarely used (except for the vacuum cleaner…also rarely used) since we have numerous small 250-400 watt plug in 12v inverters around the boat….used for grinding coffee beans in the morning, charging phones, camera batteries, or laptops at other times. Turning on the fridge in the AM, the temperature will be 50 degrees. It is 44 degrees by Happy Hour to crack that cold frosty Balboa beer. Happy Hour…besides storing sealed plastic drinking cups in the freezer, we also keep the bottled gin and rum in the freezer…icy drinks last longer in this tropical heat.
(assorted plug-in inverters) (plug-in hanging anchor light)
Fresh water management:
Being rarely in a marina slip, we love the Spectra Ventura 150 water maker (6.5 gallons/hour at about 5 amps) which with a switch can fill either port or starboard tanks; plus it has a built in control mechanism doing an automatic flush every few days; plus it has a ‘quality of water’ meter. The water maker is a mandatory component of our cruising style. Even though we have ample spare filters and seals on board, Spectra parts are available worldwide. All drinking water also passes through a replaceable charcoal filter.
The aft scoop shower head is used 5:1 over the below deck shower stall, but that is gender dependent. And then Slumdog, the Jack Russell, gets an aft scoop regular hose down coming back from the beach or mud treks under the rain forest canopy.
Under Sail. I love the screacher. Nancy hates the screacher. Good for winds up to 15 knots from 60degrees apparent to 150 apparent. The spinnaker has been set only once in 4 years. Heading offshore, we put on permanent 3rd reefing lines which necessitates going out to the mast. Otherwise, all sail configurations can be handled from the Great Room and can be handled by one person…an easy boat to singlehand. For ‘offshore’, jack lines on the coach roof were fastened on; remaining there now in our leisure to secure deck chairs, toys, or poles. Not part of Dick’s design, we’ve secured a ‘preventer’ …a block and tackle which can be moved from port to starboard. It both flattens the main as well as ‘prevents’; but also at anchor can more firmly secure the boom and Stinger pole when raising or lowering the dinghy. It needs a permanent thru-bolted pad eye. Maybe next year…along with Awlgriping the carbon fiber screacher pole which UV radiation will slowly damage.
(preventer secured to cleat below fish cleaning station) (preventer and mainsheet at the boom)
Under Power. We’ve found using a single port or starboard engine at 2800 rpm can make 6 knots…there is no need to have both engines running EXCEPT when docking. Both engines can push us well over 8 knots but what a waste of fuel and engine life. Still…when dropping or raising anchor, we’ll have both engines at idle…in case we need a quick 360 spin. Last April in Panama, I watched a young female captain singlehandedly back a 45’ cat into a marina slip under power…locking the helm at neutral and then just playing one prop against the other, forward or reverse. Slick. Fantastic control for what we all hate most…entering a crowded narrow marina slip. Having now adopted it, we always back in just playing one prop against the other, never touching the wheel locked at midships. Learned a great lesson that day.
(center console and stuff inc. frosty) (non-skid protects dropped winch handles)
Anchoring. Dick’s initial plan had 25’ of chain, then 300’ of rope but we requested 100’ of chain. He hates adding all that weight. Having lost 100’ of chain plus anchor in the Chagres River, we now have 200’ of 5/16 BBB chain with a 22kg Rocna anchor (not cheap, but it holds). Chain is of value up against the coral heads of the Caribbean; and were we headed into the Pacific (we are not), we would have 300’ of chain. Anchoring up or down can be done by one person on a MaineCat 41. For a night anchor light, we use the simple 12v plug strung from jib sheets…less power used and motorboats passing at night will see a light on deck far sooner that atop a 55’ mast.
Reading spots. One reason we head south year after year is the time and freedom it gives to read book after book after book; difficult in our work lives in Maine. I’ve found some sweet reading spots for different weather patterns; besides my 5AM settee seat with fresh ground coffee. Nancy’s prefers the queen bunk or the curved aft section of the Great Room. There is the ‘back porch’ or the ‘coach roof’.
Our first year out, my airplane bags were overweight, jammed with books; maybe 50, maybe 75. That’s changed. While I love turning the page of a good book, the Kindle has re-invented reading on boats. I brought my Kindle; Nancy brought her Kindle. We have over 300 e-books on board; plus any book she ordered is free on my Kindle. Still…at home in Maine before a wood fire, I savor the paperbound.
(Nancy's aft corner) (back porch) (on top coach roof) (Port foc'scle)
Security. Parts of Panama can be a 3rd world country…but even along the east coast USA, security is an issue. Our dinghy is our life line to shore…our wheels to town if we were farmers in eastern Montana. At anchorage, we ALWAYS lift the dinghy at night. Always. We ALWAYS lock the companionway hatches before leaving the boat. Depending on the dinghy dock and fellow cruiser’s advice, we usually do not but can cable lock the dinghy. At night and even now during daylight, with Jack, the Jack Russell terrier ,on board; intruders are ferociously deterred. For long tern storage, hasp locks in the Great Room and hatch locks are placed along with SS cables to toys on deck.
Communication. During Navigator’s early construction, Dick laid probably 250’ of 2” copper foil into the port hull acting as a ground plane; avoiding the feared Dynaplate. That with a 23’ whip antenna gives us good, not perfect, SSB reception/transmission on the Icom 820 in my office. I’d love a remote SSB speaker/microphone to the Great Room…next time. For long range WIFI, we have special antenna, shielded cable, and Alpha network wireless adapter. In the San Blas Islands of Panama with yet no Wi-Fi or good cell phone coverage, the SSB radio (and Pactor III modem) is our link to the outside world. But then that’s why we are here…to get away from the outside word…to get off the grid.
In Bocas del Toro, Panama with the correct Sim card and a few dineros, you can call anywhere in the world on your cell phone.
With 3 laptops on board (a handbag notebook, an old Sony dedicated to communicate with the Pactor modem, and my principle Lenovo), Nancy has her laptop and smartphone as well. Thus there exist ample communication avenues on Navigator.
That said…next time, a wireless router hooked to the long-range Wi-Fi antenna would enable someone to connect anywhere on the boat. Maybe a wireless printer as well. We are so spoiled!! We both consider satellite phones of little value unless crossing remote parts of the world.
You lift any cabin sole floor…you’ll see Rubbermaid containers of varying size. Under every cabin sole is an ocean of “stuff”…all enclosed in Rubbermaid containers with lids. Food and more food…pumps…hoses…Velcro…bungies…coffee…courtesy flags…water maker and engine spare filters. The list goes on. I think there is even a virgin sewing machine somewhere…also a food vacuum sealer…all down in the sub-sole bilges. Dick would be aghast at the weight…dropping the waterline. But then this is a cruising not racing cat…and, we have clocked over 15 knots under jib and double reefed main…not bad. Last year sailing from the Bahamas to Jamaica to Isla Providencia, to Panama; Navigator averaged 8 knots.
The major storage area for the six empty 5-gallon jerry cans (#4 diesel…#2 water) is either engine compartment…along with the Cob grill, the laundry machine, the oil pump-out canister, and shoreside electronic cables. We minimize storage in the foc’scles. Spinnaker sail, gale sail, sea anchor, droque and back up 30lb. Bruce anchor are stored in the port deck forward compartment along with wash down hoses. The starboard compartment holds mooring lines, fenders, and 200’ of chain and 300’ of 8 strand line. svNavigator does not carry an inflatable life raft planning to avoid horrendous seas with modern forecast routing…plus both bows have watertight compartments. The dinghy (with chaps for protection from UV) also becomes storage for the Hooka, spare tanks, and even garbage when underway.
Our friends on sistership TabbyCat introduced us to the “WonderWash” tumbler…OK but a bucket works as well. Still, 90% of our sheets, towels, major stuff is dropped off at a local Laundromat when available.
(too small for towels or bedding)
We use those universal plastic bags dispensed at the check-out line for daily garbage; and when full, drop them in Dick’s garbage dumpster until shore disposal is available. Not the flush garbage counter giving us more counter space. Offshore in Deep Blue, the hoisted dinghy can act as a dumpster for those plastic bags and flirting fruit flies.
(flush garbadge top expands counter space)
Cleaning. While a great watch dog, Jack continues to shed and shed though we groom him day after day. He is the major contribution to ’dust bunnies’ and clogged drains. Monthly we lift the interior floorboards and are aghast at the dirt, hair, and food particles coating the lip. It is an ‘on your knees and Fantastic swipe’ job. For deck stains, the blue gel in “FSR” combined with elbow grease works. Stainless Steel stains comes off best with Weiman’s metal polish. McLube lubrication spray for the mast track, hatch hinges, and all those zippers. For Strataglass panels…Imar Strataglass protective polish. 3M Marine Liquid wax. The toilet bowl…vinegar. For that recurring green mold on fabric…diluted bleach spray. For black mold…no solution yet. It rains a lot in Panama.
Nancy just now acquired a ‘paddleboard’ named “Bluebird III”, with long carbon fiber paddle for touring the mangrove inlets. The “Double Ended Carrot” is an inflatable 2 person kayak stored under the shower seat. The Hooka…a compressor with twin 60’ scuba hoses and mouthpieces (no tanks) used to clean the bottom or ‘snorkel’ down to 60’ . Of course, the usual surface snorkel gear and certified scuba gear with tanks. Second outboard…maybe should be included under ‘Security’ since outboards are the most frequent breakdown in the cruising salt water world. Our 2 hp has never been activated. A side note: join the SSCA (Seven Seas Cruising Association…$35/year). Get sponsored to become a Commodore, and insurance companies will deduct 10% off you annual premium.
(Blue Bird III in action) (stored on coach roof)
(Double-ended Carrot and siesta)
(Hooka engine without hoses attached) (back-up outboard stored on railing above dinghy)
Pets on board or specifically Jack on board.
Coming into Panama aboard Navigator, no official questioned Jack, his health papers…he just got off the boat. Fly into Panama with Jack (his carry-on fits below the seat), he went into quarantine…stayed days in the airport until cleared by a vet, even though we’d correctly processed all his health papers months previously in the states.
Jack will not jump off the boat into water having almost drowned in Maine waters…but he will go crashing through the surf far over his head chasing a tennis ball. At anchor, he will bark at any passing dinghy, especially if carrying a pet; but then play all day with that same pet on the docks.
The port trampoline is his duty area, never needing to be ferried ashore in search of grass. We tried those synthetic grass pads…he prefers the port trampoline which gets a daily salt water hose down.
A Slumdog…needing to lie up against a warm body all night; moving from one to another if guests are on board. Both ambassador and a chick-magnet as well. Leashed outside a restaurant, we invariably come out to find one or two damsels bent over caressing him.
Some… but Dick has always quickly replaced them. All 4 initial bilge pumps. The autopilot fluxgate compass. The tri-color masthead light. Solar charger for the Genset battery. Those interior small white reading lights…the switches fail. The anchor windlass control arm. The Stackpack by Pope was probably accidentally sewn with a thread not UV resistant…the entire zipper totally fell apart at the stitch line, along with other stitch lines. UV light melted parts of the dinghy gas tank and rubber fuel line (we fortunately had spares). The usual broken alternator belt and water pump belt. Still…that’s minimal failures for a 5 year old boat.
Cockpit cushions that are not a ‘solid’ Sunbrella color….every stain shows so we now cover the cushions with beach towels. More 12v cigarette lighter receptacles. Awlgriped screacher pole. A 15hp 2-stroke outboard instead of the 8hp 4-stroke (both the same weight I’m told) and a 10’ dinghy instead of the 12’ dinghy. I constantly fear the Stinger pole will buckle. See through composite propane tanks…you can check the level.
(stained Sunbrella cushion) (covered with beach towel)
(you can see the liquid propane level in the tank)
A bright red hammock strung between mast and furled jib…better yet, I’ll get that next week in Bocas town.
…also known as “red poison-dart frog” or “strawberry poison-dart frog”.
…scientifically classified as “Oophaga pumilio”, Species “O. pumilio”, of which there are 4 morphs/colors including one limited to Isla Bastimentos, Panama with black dots on back and legs.
…listed as a threatened or endangered species though the local barefoot Indian children catch them in styrofoam cups and then attempt charging 25 cents to touristas for a “peek”. (we know how those frogs will end…)…toxic from their diet of ‘formicine’ ants but harmless if not fed ants; thus becoming a rather popular exotic pet
Perhaps 10 years ago a group of investors bought a large tract of land on Isla Bastimentos in Panama, bordered to the east by Bastimentos National Park and the town of Bastimentos to the west, abutting the expansive beautiful Red Frog Beach… a national beach. This group, “Red Frog Beach Club”, had a multi-phase development plan for 50plus $500,000 ( and up) villas… restaurants…marina…spas and countless beach activities.
Phase I was partially completed with the infrastructure of gravel roads, sewage, water, electric and maybe 25 villas under construction. Then crash! The recession ...labor strikes by the local low-waged Indian workers, and bankruptcy was declared.
A small group of the initial wealthy investors bought what remained of the ‘Red Frog Beach Club’, bringing it out of bankruptcy; then completing their own private villas
then opening a bare bones marina and starting a hostel for surfing enthusiasts. Peoples from around the world will come to the Bocas del Toro region to bake and surf..
So where are we today?
With the economy slightly improved, there is some villa construction but still of the originals, 50% remain as piles of rebar, dreams, or in receivership. Everything remains touch and go…certainly no new construction. And in the background is the $1500/month condominium fee for water, power, grounds maintenance, cleaning etc.
The marina is clean and basic, with need of more restrooms and showers but it is the one true money-maker…in fact, 30 new slips have just been added using materials from the original purchase plan; but without power or water and thus inexpensive. Now the largest marina in Bocas del Toro region but still the least costly.
The Kayukos is an open restaurant and bar; fixed menu, mostly used by employees and the few backpackers staying in the $15/night hostel. One can rent beautiful villas for $145/day or $1000/week…each with private spa, swimming pool, and golf cart to get around.
The thrilling “Canopy Tour” with Ziplines 150 feet up in the rain forest above the jungle floor might just break even considering personnel and labor. Their motif: “Fly the Sky”. $55/person.
Just now the Punta Lava Beach Bar and Grill has opened at Red Frog Beach…good Cheeseburgers in Paradise and cold cold Panama cervesa.
And then Bocas town now unloads daily water taxis lined with sun worshipers to walk or ride the half mile across the island from mangrove side to Red Frog Beach side seeking surf, sand, and beach bar…each charged an extra $2 on top of the water taxi. Listening quietly you might hear any of 8 different languages. Still, it is a little more income.
We all hope the Red Frog Beach Club survives. It is a beautiful tropical spot…but I’d hold off on that 100K deposit…
Each red poison-dart frog averages 18 mm in length...that's less than inch.