Tag Archives: Retirement in Panama

Learning Curve

I’ve decided that I should build a pontoon-type boat, doing it in four-foot segments (possibly eight-foot if I can be sure to divide that in half with a leak-proof bulkhead. These segments would be built here at the house in Boquerón and then trucked down to the marina in Pedregal where they’d be bolted and epoxied together. I have a LOT of experience with thickened epoxy as a bonding agent and I KNOW that the wood around the epoxied joint will give way before the joint will.

The pontoons will be 2-feet wide by 2-feet high, and between 24 and 28 feet long. Probably the latter. The beam of the boat will be 10-feet, with the house being 8-feet wide allowing for a nice roof overhang, or whatever that’s called in carpentry terms.

I decided on the pontoons because of the amount of flotation they offer. Here are the numbers I’ve come up with…

Each pontoon segment will be 2’X2’X4’ = 16 cubic feet

One cubic foot = 7.5 gallons (7.48)

One gallon of water weighs = 8.3453 pounds. One cubic foot = 7.48052 gallons. The weight of one cubic foot of water is 7.48052 gallons times 8.3453 pounds, which equals 62.42 pounds of water per cubic foot. OR, it would take 62.42 lbs. to completely sink a cubic foot container.

SO, 62.42 lbs X 16 cubic feet = 998.72 lbs. displacement for each 4’ pontoon. Minus the weight of the materials each pontoon will support, roughly, 900 lbs.

The sections in the bow would be made like the bow of a barge or scow, sloped up from the bottom to move through the water with less resistance. Figure that each one of those will be roughly half the volume of the regular one for a 28’ long structure overall, or roughly 11,700 lbs. flotation. Whatever kind of house structure I build on top of the pontoon segments plus all the junk that I’d bring aboard certainly isn’t going to amount to five and a half TONS!

If you look as building a raft-type structure using 55-gallon drums the figures look like this:

Now, a 55 gallon drum measures 35” X 24”. A 55 gallon drum will displace 459 lbs.

Because of the odd measurement of 35” you’d need 10 drums to make up each pontoon of a similar size to the plywood pontoons. Now you’re mucking around with non-standard size lumber or going for 10 barrels a side. The cheapest 55-gallon plastic barrels I’ve found around here cost $30/each (can’t find a source for used barrels like in the States because if they are available they’re snapped up instantly by people who use them for water storage.). That’s $600 for flotation. And how much flotation? Potentially 9,180 lbs., before deducting the weight of the materials needed to contain them. So more than a ton less flotation than the plywood pontoons.

I tried drawing these pontoon segments out on paper, but it wasn’t very successful, everything in 2-D. So I downloaded the free SketchUp design program and found out there’s a HUGE, STEEP learning curve and the frustration level was almost more than I could bear.

So, one Sunday morning last month I went into David (Dah VEED) to the store where I knew I could get 2′ X 2′ X 4′ styrofoam drop ceiling tiles, 1/2″ thick which is EXACTLY what like a pontoon segment would be like. (I’ve since decided that the bottoms of each segment should be 3/4″ thick instead of 1/2″. Using a hot-glue gun to assemble the pieces (Elmer’s School Glue took too long to dry and needed constant pressure to stick together, and contact cement INSTANTLY melts styrofoam) this is what I came up with.

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Not only did this help me to visualize the building process, I found out that certain things had to be inset from an edge to accommodate other pieces.

If there’s one character trait I possess it’s that I’m STUBBORN! I became bound and determined that I was going to learn how to use the SketchUp program at least well enough so that I could document here, and possibly later in e-book form, how to build this boat. So I watched, over and over again, various YouTube tutorials on how the program works. I had to constantly trying something, discarding it, repeat, repeat, repeat. But I persevered and, while the measurements are a bit off at least I was finally able to get something resembling a 3-D rendition of a pontoon segment…

Segment 1Segment 3

Those end pieces that stick up above the pontoons are where the 2 X 6 cross beams will attach the pontoons to form a catamaran structure. End to end each 4′ section will have a one-inch-thick attachment point. Bolted and epoxied they should be strong enough to be able to move the boat without a problem. So, diddling around some more with SketchUp, and getting better at it all the time though still having to try something, discard it and do it over again, I came up with these ideas.

28-foot pontoon 2

This is what a pontoon would look like. That square thing in the bow would be a hatch so I could use those segments to store anchor line and fenders.

Here they are with the cross braces and decking…

28-foot pontoon with cross braces28-foot pontoon with decking

So that’s what I’ve come up with so far…

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Cool Stuff

If I ever became crippled or infirm, THIS is what I want for my walker…

walker

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Hot Stuff

I bought some genuine Tabasco Sauce today. I LOVE hot sauces. Each one is good for a specific thing. For example, Crystal hot sauce is absolutely the BEST THING to put on popcorn. Screw butter. For me it’s Crystal hot sauce made by the Baumer family in New Orleans. I happen to actually know Mr. Baumer. His boat was three slips away from the Lady Ann which I ran out at the lakefront. Crystal is also pretty damned good on red beans and rice. When I was getting ready to move to France I went out and bought five bottles of Cyrstal. The first time I went to the grocery store over in Antibes I discovered they only sold two kinds of hot sauce over there…Tabasco and Crystal.

I also like D’Elidas. down here since I’ve never seen any Malinda’s and D’Elidas is close. They just started stocking Sriracha sauce at Romero and Rey. That stuff, with a bit of melted butter makes an excellent wing sauce. I don’t care for Cholula.

Now Tabasco is interesting. I actually know where Avery Island is in Louisiana. Ran crewboats all around the place for several years, but never stepped foot on it. Here’s the thing about Tabasco…it’s good on, like red beans and rice, but it sucks on popcorn. HOWEVER, if you’re going to make a Bloody Mary, there’s only ONE hot sauce that will work and that’s Tabasco. PERIOD! Any other hot sauce sucks when it comes to making bloody Bloody Marys.

Now, when I took the bottle of Tabasco out of the box it came in I looked at the stuff printed on it. Interesting. D’Elidas is made of “Selected habanero peppers (not just any run of the mill habaneros, no siree, ‘selected’ ones), Mustard, Vinegar, Water, Salt, Onion, Xanthan Gum (whatever the hell that stuff is) and 0.1% Sodium Benzoate (mmmmm, sodium benzoate).

I first had Melinda’s sauce at a place on Caye Caulker, Belize. There was a woman there who set up four card tables on her porch and made lunches. The most fantastic thing on her simple menu was a lobster tostada: flat, crispy tortilla with refried black beans, a healthy heaping serving of lobster salad, some chopped lettuce and grated cheese topping. For a buck U.S. !
There was a bottle of Melinda’s on the table and it was FANTASTIC ! In the six days I spent anchored at Caye Caulker I had lunch there four times…(I didn’t discover the place until my second day). Melinda’s was the first carrot-based hot sauce I’d ever come across. The ingredients are: Fresh Carrots, Choice Red Habanero Peppers, Onions, Lime Juice, Vinegar, Garlic and Salt. No Xanthan gum or sodium benzoate for that girl.

Now, probably the simplest of the sauces is Tabasco. Ingredients are: Distilled vinegar, red pepper, salt. PERIOD ! That’s it. NOTHING ELSE ! The Peppers are ground into a mash on the day of harvest and placed along with salt in white oak barrels. After aging for up to three years, the mash is strained to remove skins and seeds. The resulting liquid is mixed with vinegar, stirred occasionally for a month. And there you have it.

On the side of the box is the Nutrition Facts box. There are 0 calories in the official FDA “Serving Size”. Total Fat? 0 and there is 35 mg of Sodium in that serving which constitutes 1% of your daily value according to the FDA. Compare that to a “serving” of Old El Paso Thick ‘n Chunky Salsa that contains 200 mg of sodium of 9% of your daily value and that’s per 2 tablespoons of the stuff. And you’re never getting up from the table after just using 2 tablespoons, are ya?

Here’s a challenge for ya! The FDA’s “Serving Size” for Tabasco is 1 teaspoon (5 ml). I DARE YOU to down a teaspoon full of Tabasco Sauce in one go. Ain’t gonna happen.Tabasco_bottle_2013

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Panama Canal 100 Years Later

Ask anyone in the world what the first thing is they think of when they hear the word “Panama,” and the nearly universal response would have to be CANAL! One Hundred years ago the opening of the Panama Canal literally changed how the world worked. Shipping no longer had to make the treacherous voyage around Cape Horn, one of the worst places for shipping on the face of the globe.

Eventually, though shipping outgrew the size of the Canal’s locks. The lock chambers are 110 ft (33.53 m) wide by 1,050 ft (320 m) long, with a usable length of 1,000 ft (305 m). These dimensions determine the maximum size of ships that can use the canal; this size is known as Panamax. For years many new ships have been referred to as Postpanamax because they wouldn’t fit. Now, though, the country has been on a construction project unlike any other ever attempted. They’ve been building new locks to accommodate the larger ships. The new lock chambers will be 427 m (1,400.92 ft) long, 55 m (180.45 ft) wide, and 18.3 m (60.04 ft) deep. They will use rolling gates instead of miter gates, which are used by the existing locks.

To give you some idea of the immensity of this project take a look at these two videos updating the progress of the new lock system. Work is close to 90% completed. Income from the Canal today, and what will come from increased traffic (though it will take decades to pay off the several BILLION dollars the project will cost) is what makes Panama the most prosperous country in Central America and much of South America as well. Not only had the Canal project been a boon here ports all over the United States and Europe have been on a building boom, too, to match the anticipated volume of large shipping that will be coming their way with the completion of the Canal.

One thing worries me, though. This project has been a boon to construction workers in the country, and people don’t often think of all the businesses that support such a project…concrete companies, the drivers who haul the concrete and the land that’s being excavated. The mechanics who maintain those trucks. And it gets right down to the little corner “Super Minis” of “Chinos”, Panama’s answer to convenience stores where the workers spend their pay checks. What happens to all those people when the project is finished. What will they do for work then? Will it cause social unrest and massive unemployment? Time will tell, of course.

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The Dog Gets A Painful Lesson

You may notice that I said “The” dog, not “My” dog. That’s only because she’s only “my” dog by virtue of the fact that I feed her. And even then, it’s not every day. She’ll disappear for a couple or three days every now and then. She kind of accepts that her name is “Dirt Dog” though she’ll only come to that name when I call her if she feels like it. The reason I call her that is because she’s mostly white with a couple of BIG black spots and one of her favorite things to do is to go down to the river, take a dip and then lay around in dirt giving her a coating of mud sometimes.

She came limping into my life a couple of years ago with a broken leg. Naturally I took her to the vet and got her fixed up. Who wouldn’t? And I took her to one of the spay and neuter clinics that are held around the area monthly. Chiriquí doesn’t need anymore dogs.

Anyway, this morning when I went to feed her I noticed there were a couple of things hanging from her lower lip. It looked like a couple of pieces of dried grass. She does spend a lot of time roaming around in the brush, and right now towards the end (hopefully) of the “dry” season most of the grass and weeds around are the color of straw. But when I was able to get up close to her I saw it wasn’t grass. It was a couple of what looked like porcupine quills.

I was able to pull them out of her lip. She shook her head and walked off without touching her breakfast. I wondered if there were, in fact, porcupines in Panama and this is what I discovered…

It’s Rothschild’s porcupine (wouldn’t you know those rich bastards would have an animal named after them?).

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According to Wikipedia, Coendou rothschildi, is a species of rodent in the family Erethizontidae.  It is usually considered endemic to Panama. This species can be found in lowland deciduous and evergreen forest. It is nocturnal and arboreal; it sleeps during the day in vine tangles near the tops of trees. The diet includes fruit and leaves. Well, I had a cantaloup that was going bad and threw out in the back yard the other day. I noticed yesterday morning that one large part of it had been dragged off to another spot and it was probably one of these guys, and last night the dog decided to tangle with it and got a surprise.

I tried to get a photo of the quills but they didn’t come out. They’re about an inch and an eight long, black on the barbed end and about two thirds of them are straw colored.

That’s your lesson for the day, kids. And your new vocabulary word is endemic. There’s probably never going to be a time in your life when there’ll be a chance to use the word Erethizontidae but you might be able to work endemic in somewhere. Endemism is the ecological state of a species being unique to a defined geographic location, such as an island, nation, country or other defined zone, or habitat type; organisms that are indigenous  to a place are not endemic to it if they are also found elsewhere. Huh, I didn’t know that until this morning, did you? You would, of course score HUGE points if you could work Erethizontidae into a conversation some day.

big words

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A Trip To The Bocas (Chica and Brava)

My friends, Kris and Joel Cunningham, and a neighbor of theirs, Lauren, made a trip over to the Boca Chica/Boca Brava area today, with Joel driving.

Boca Chica Sat view

The Interamerican Highway is under construction the whole way from David to Santiago in the middle of the country though traveling over to where we turned off to Hoconcitos was pretty easy going. The road from Horconcitos to Boca Chica, which is on the mainland was a different story. We passed a lot of houses that gringos would definitely consider hovels, some made of split bamboo and others that looked as though they were made of discarded lumber picked up along the highway somewhere. But as we discussed, at least these people have places to live. They have homes and aren’t living under bridges which, to our group’s way of thinking is a huge step up from being homeless in America.

The road from Horconcitos ends at the waterfront in Boca Chica…

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One of the biggest lies found in travel guides, anywhere, is the phrase, “English is widely spoken.” Well, sort of…

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We caught a water taxi from Boca Chica…

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Over to the Hotel Boca Brava where I promptly fell in love wit the girl who works at the restaurant there. As usual I didn’t take nearly enough photos of the whole event. But to access the hotel you have to walk up about eighteen hundred gazillion stairs. I found it to be a challenge, but the views when we got up to the top were worth the pain…

Looking out towards the Pacific Ocean.

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Looking back towards the mainland.

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I don’t know how drunk the driver had to be to pile this truck up at the Boca Brava Hotel maybe 75 feet above the water and with no road…

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We had lunch at the hotel with huge, surprisingly tasty hamburgers and fries while Lauren opted for the “fish fingers.” I never realized fish had hands, let alone fingers…

Back on the mainland I asked one of the fishermen if he knew of anyone who had a boat they wanted to sell. He said he did, but it needed work and pointed down the shoreline and wanted to take me there, forthwith, as they say, and it was all I could do to get him to stop trying to get me to go along with him. He said the owner wanted about $2,500. I’d seen the boat, I’m sure, from the water taxi, and if this isn’t it, the color scheme is the same, then it’s pretty close. Yellow and red. On the way out of town we took a peek at where the boat was. These boats are very narrow, with a beam of about six feet which, if you go look back at my post about the narrow boats of England, can make quite tidy homes. This hull, rather roughly finished fiberglass, is about 30 feet long.

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Before heading for home, we swung off the road to Horconcitos onto a horrible road that took up to the Seagull Cove Lodge where Kris and Joel have stayed several times. They were very warmly greeted by the manager, Marcelo. Joel took this picture of Marcelo, Kris, Lauren in the background and myself, standing out at the edge of the dining room.

At Seagull Cove Lodge

The views from where we were standing were gorgeous. In fact, they all were.

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On the road back to the Interamerican Highway there are some spectacular vistas. It’s a shame a two-dimensional camera can’t capture the depth of the scenery.

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Traffic was much heavier on the way back into the city but Joel and Kris dropped me off at the bus terminal around 4 o’clock or so and I was home, dead tired but happy by 5.

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What Good Are Plans If You Can’t Change Them?

I’ve had problems sleeping, lately. I get up in the middle of the night to take a whiz and can’t get back to sleep because variations of the shanty boat build whirl around in my mind.

I thought about filling milk crates with empty 2-liter plastic bottles and then found out there’s only one dairy in the whole country that uses them and they won’t sell them. Using other kinds of containers to hold the bottles are no real answer to the problem, either. In any case, I would have built a plywood pontoon around them.

So I got to thinking about using foam flotation. I found a place that sells open-cell foam ceiling tiles and could buy enough of them to provide, literally, tons of buoyancy. The problem with them is each 2’X4′ panel is only 1/2″ thick. Also, open-cell foam, I discovered from rummaging around on line when I couldn’t get back to sleep, will absorb water over time. I’d also have to  find a way to keep the 35 sheets that came in a bundle together.

Closed-cell foam doesn’t absorb water. There’s only one place in all of Panama that sells closed-foam sheets. The sheets are 4’X8′ and 4″ thick. They cost $100 each. I’d need 24 sheets to get the size and amount of buoyancy required for what I have in mind. I’m NOT spending $2,400 for floatation.

So, I’m looking at a site that shows some people building pontoons and stuffing it with foam.

Foam filling

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As you can see in the bottom pic they’re using a combination of bottles, 5-gallon pails and foam. They also mentioned in their story that they weren’t making the pontoons water-tight because they were making a single river trip and the shanty wasn’t for long-term use.

The foam isn’t providing any buoyancy of its own. None at all. What it’s doing is providing potential buoyancy should the pontoons be breached.

Well, I intend on making my pontoons watertight using a combination of glues, epoxy filets, and glass over wood. I also plan on building the pontoons in separate 2’X2’X4′ sections. They’d be easy for an old geezer like me to build and move around than building two long 20′ or 24′ pontoons. These segments would, of course, each have closed ends so that a breach in one wouldn’t flood the whole pontoon. Then I would fill them, like seen above, with a collection of discarded bottles.

So, we’ll see if sorting this out in the daylight will help me sleep through the night.

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