I still have to pinch myself to remember we really are in Panama and looking at the vast Pacific Ocean.
The marina in Colon, Shelter Bay, was a hive of activity and very much reminded me of the Canaries when we were preparing to go across the Atlantic 18 months ago. Amount half the boats were preparing to go through the Canal and cross the Pacific. There are all manner of things to do – be measured by the Canal authorities to allow us to go through the Canal; organise line handlers – 4 required; remove solar panels so that they cannot interfere with the lines which will keep us out of trouble in the Canal; our code zero needed some attention from the sail makers; the boat was hauled out in Linton and pressure washed to ensure it is clean for Galapagos; engine and generator check; provisioning and a clean and polish.
Our good friends Bill and Moira from Krabat, Allen and Maria from Lady Jane and Jana and JD plus their boys from Jajapami were all in the marina waiting to go through the canal so it was not all jobs and we did find some time to be social. Yoga started at 8 am, we had a great nature walk in the jungle near the marina – the birds are hard to photograph and the sounds are fabulous particularly the howler monkeys. We joined a talk on the Pacific Islands and we took the opportunity to check out the Gatun locks in advance of our trip. Caryn Canfield from USA who we had met on the Chesapeake rally joined us for the Canal trip.
We have installed a large CO2 canister on the back of the boat so we can have ad-lib sparkling water. I think we must have a five years supply of CO2! Caryn made a very smart neoprene cover.
We repacked the series drogue. This is a series of 124 fabric cones which we can trail behind boat to slower her up in seriously bad weather – hopefully it will remain packed up!
Panama will be the last serious shopping opportunity for about four months so I have created a comprehensive spreadsheet of stores in the hope that not too much runs out. We took the marina bus to Colon a couple of times for the hour long, bone shaking ride and a taxi ride home with our massive shop.
Finally the day for the Canal arrived but Julian had lost a crown from one of his front teeth the night before. Our wonderful dentist in the UK, Chris Bocking, confirmed that if it was not painful it would wait until we return to UK next. Very fortuitously however, Julian had met a German cruising dentist at the marina, and he very kindly replaced the crown in the morning.
So with long four 125m lines, big fenders, and professional line handler, Gutti, we were ready to go and wait at the anchorage for the Canal pilot. We were also joined by our friend Peter Smith who we met in Jamaica. Peter has been sailing the world for the past 20 years in his hugely impressive aluminium boat, Kiwi Roa. Peter is also the designer of the Rocna anchor. Gutti had played football for Panama’s national team – I think he was rather disappointed at our lack of football knowledge. Our best effort was to show him where Manchester was on the map which I suspect he already knew! He was a delightful young man and is now studying Economics and Law at Panama University. We waited three hours for our pilot or advisor as they are called here to arrive. Transiting the Canal is a precision exercise but there still does seem a fair bit of waiting around and time for some great photo opportunities!
The Gatun locks (three in a row going up) came up quickly and we were told to raft up to a French boat and an Australian boat and followed in behind a large tanker. The line handlers then keep the raft in the centre of the lock as the water rises. It does sound simple but it is quite an experience, hard work and completing the three locks took about two hours.
We spent the night attached to the biggest bouy we have ever seen in the Gatun lake. Our new advisers Jerry and Giovanni arrived the next morning and we then travelled for about four hours across the Gatun lake to the Gaillard Cut and the three downward locks – Pedro Miguel Locks and Miraflores Locks. We learnt that The Australia boat had somehow drifted out of the channel and run aground – apparently no serious damage but they were now behind and unable to join us.
For the next locks we attached to the French boat which attached to a small tourist boat and they looked after the shore lines. This was much easier. There was one last drama when the French boat failed to attach their stern line to the tourist boat and did a full pirouette at the front of the lock gates. They were now right up against the gates, facing the wrong way and against the wall – a very bad place to be! The water was dropped and somehow the advisers and line handlers managed to turn the boat – these guys are very skilled.
The locks over, we motored past the Panama docks, returned the hired lines and buoys, the advisors were collected and Gutti and Peter left the boat. We then went under the Bridge of The Americas and finally into our marina in Panama City.
We were tired but elated – it had been a fantastic trip unlike anything else we have experienced. Pacific here we come!