Friday, October 9, 2009

Panama Canal

Las Perlas Islands - 8 29.5N 79 02.9W

We have been quite busy since my last post....apologies for the lack of updates, but I just haven't had the time in the day to write for 10 minutes. The day after our last post we had a bit of a fuel scare when our last storage tank read significantly lower than we expected. In the end we think is is just reading a bit low when 3/4 empty, but at the time we were afraid we had 50 less gallons on board than we though we did. Luckily, we have made great friends out here and both Better Days and Alpha Wave gave up some of their spare fuel so we could stick around a few more days as we had originally planned. We headed over to the East Lemons and had a few great snorkels there, played volleyball, and caught up to Philippe on Renegade as well.

On the 30th we headed up to Linton to visit the Sloths, but outboard problems kept us away. Luckily they offered to have "their boys" pick us up in the morning so we could still visit, and what an amazing experience. They have raised 3 orphaned sloths from infants, and they are very cool animals. They love to be held, are very friendly, and quite affectionate. Princess, their two toed sloth even has a teddy bear that she is lost without...very cute. Late morning we headed to shelter bay, picking up fuel for the crossing on our way in.

Friday (2nd) mom and I headed to Panama city to provision while Bill stayed to work on refrigeration and Zak stayed to use the Internet. It was a brutally long and exhausting day, made worse by our complete lack of food all day long. After a shuttle to Colon (1 hr) and a bus ride to Panama city (1.5 hrs), we finally got started driving around a city with a serious traffic problem. Roger took us around, but had some other errands to run as well, so it led to some wasted time. We finished at Mega Depot around 5:00, then had to wait an hour for him to pick us up, so we skipped the grocery and headed back to shelter bay (2 hrs), which meant we didn't even get everything on board until 10:00. Saturday morning was spent finding homes for all the food, then Zak and mom went to the grocery in Colon in the afternoon while Bill and I finished putting away the food and got started laying out the Air-conditioner ducting. We also had Connie and Steve (Better Days) over for dinner as they had limped into shelter bay having been struck by lightening on Thursday morning, loosing all electronics, and their gen-set.

Sunday Bill and I installed all the air-con ducting and louvers (much nicer than a duct running across the room) and fixed the VHF mike in the cockpit, our two jobs we needed to get done at shelter bay. Monday we had a Canal transit scheduled for 5:00, so the early afternoon was supposed to be fairly relaxing, but luckily they moved up our transit time, so we had less pool time, but more sleep Monday night. On-board we had Meg Crofoot, my old friend from Sunshine Nursery/John Bapst High School, as well as Connie and Steve off of Better Days who were a late edition.

We met our Pilot at 3:30 and started our way toward the Gatun Locks, following a single medium sized ship. We had already set up our 15 tire fenders and four 125 foot lines (two bow, two stern) with large eyes tied in them to fit over the bollards. As you approach the lock, the shore-side line handlers toss you a leader line with a monkey's fist tied in the end. Must say, they have excellent aim. You then tie that line to your line and hold the leader line until the boat is lined up in the lock. At this point the line handlers pull your line up to the wall sides and put it on a bollard and we take up all the slack to orient the boat in the center of the lock. We were lucky that we didn't have any other small boats tied to us and had a fairly short ship in front of us, so we weren't right behind his prop wash. We also had set up our lines with some powerful help in the form of the secondary winches aft and an anchor windlass forward. This ended up being very handy as VofJ is awfully large to pull around by hand. Meg and I were forward with Zak providing photog and windlass button pushing help, leaving Steve, Connie and Mom aft with Bill at the helm. As the water floods into the locks from below, the lines must be shortened to keep you in the center of the lock. On top of that, the water boils up from below creating some decent currents. All went fine and we kept the boat nicely centered. Once the lock doors open and the ship moved out in front of us, the line handlers release your line from the bollards and we pull them back aboard with the leader lines (monkey fists) still attached. We hold the leader line while the line handlers walk the lines up to the next set of locks and the process is repeated three times. The final time, they just drop your lines in the water without a leader attached and you just pull it in. We then headed over to the mooring buoy's to spend the night.

Our Pilot, usually doing large ships (we got a true pilot, instead of the usual adviser, because we measured 65' with our dingy on the davits which is the cut-off for pilots) was unfamiliar with the yacht moorings so it took a while to find them. They are very large "balls" so you end up side tying to them with a bow and stern line. We then ate dinner and got to bed around 11:00 with plans to get up at 6:30 for a 7:00 Pilot arrival.

Our second Pilot didn't show up until 7:45 and then needed us to go 9kts to make our lock time of 11:00. Luckily we can do that fairly easily, but it does burn some extra fuel. At about 9:30 we got word they had added a ship to the northbound traffic which pushed our lock time back to 11:45 allowing us to slow down a bit, and eventually to basically drift for a half hour as we arrived a bit early. The southern locks are separated into two sets, the first one separated from the second two by a small lake. The process is almost identical, but it is a bit easier as you are easing your lines, not tightening them as you go down and the currents are much reduced as the water isn't boiling up from below. This time we were just behind a small ferry boat, so we had tons of room and all went smoothly. We got to the Balboa Yacht club in the early afternoon and headed to the marine store to get one errand out of the way early.

That night we had a wonderful dinner in the old city and then had to catch cabs back to the boat. We were having a hell of a time finding a cab, so I called the dispatchers and got two on their way which would be there in "5 minutos". Of course 10 mins later they still weren't there, and Bill got one cab which agreed to fit all 6 of us in his Toyota Carola. About 2 miles down the road we reached a police check point and were stopped and questioned. He was upset we had too many people in the car and wanted to see our Passports. What? Our passports were on the boat. We apologized, and tried to explain we didn't know we were supposed to carry them around the city, but he was ready to send us off to jail until he realized Bill was the captain and there was no one to bring our passports to us. Lucky at this point he let us go, but only 4 people in the cab. Bill and I stayed, and waited for him to hail us a cab. We all arrived unscathed and got right to bed with a great story.

Wednesday (7th) we had another shopping day, and were met by Meg's friend Robinson to drive us around. He was great and while it was a long day we got all we needed including a new 25hp dingy engine as we are sick of dealing with our old one (plus it is underpowered for the 4 of us). Thursday we got up bright and early and headed off to Barro Colorado Island, where Meg researches Monkeys, The island is situated in the middle of Gatun Lake in the the canal and was formed from the top of a mountain when the lake was flooded. It is run by the Smithsonian as a tropical research center. We went on a long hike through the rain forest, seeing lots of ants, spiders, some cool flowers and a fair amount of howler monkeys. Unfortunately we did not find the capuchin monkeys she reasearches, but had a great morning in the forest seeing what Meg does. Lunch was back at the compound, then some relaxation time (I took a 2 hr nap) in the lounge while we waited for the afternoon boat back to mainland. That night we went to a great Chinese restaurant and said goodbye to Meg, hoping she might come find us along the way for a visit.

Friday we got underway early, picked up fuel and then headed down to the Las Perlas islands, in the middle of the Bay of Panama off the Pacific coast. The look of these islands is completely different, and you could almost be in Maine with the rocky coastline. We caught two fish on the way (a small Dorado and a small Sierra, a Mackerel) We had wonderful Civeche, and grilled fish for dinner and then watched the first double episode of Grey's Anatomy which Zak had pulled down while we had internet in Panama City. Overall a wonderful day to end a wonderful and exciting, but very busy week.


David Crofoot said...

Gram, Great to read about the Canal transit and other adventures. Hope you've seen Meg's photos on her blog. Wishing you safe sailing and great adventures!

Steve and Connie Ribakoff said...

Great description of our Panama Canal transit Gram. Thanks again for inviting us to join you all for that once in a lifetime experience. Glad you made it safely to Ecuador. We're still here in Panama waiting for boat repairs. Miss you all!
Con and Steve