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Anthem Adrift
Prevailing Winds
03/20/2010, La Playita de Amador, Panama

March 20

Aussie couple who, along with me, helped Whoosh transit the canal finally made it themselves three days late enjoying the uncertainty of an advisor and pilot strike/sickout, but they were lucky. Last work stoppage, awhile ago, apparently lasted two months and this time no one was told what to expect. Reportedly, twenty two agitated boat crews will, tomorrow, be flooding through into the Pacific and our little anchorage. Anticipate Monday cruiser's net will be alive with pleasant things to say about Panama.

And speaking of a well oiled bureaucratic machine, here is an edited story Jack T. sent along from a friend:

John and his wife had lived in Panama for 10 years and spoke excellent (colloquial) Spanish. He bought, from a guy in the Canal Zone just to haul his boat, a 10 year old Oldsmobile which now had to be registered in Panama and import duty paid.

John decided that he'd lived in Panama long enough and spoke the language well enough to import and register this automobile himself, so he took a Thursday off from work and headed down to the customs office.

By mid-afternoon he had accumulated a stack of paper about 2" thick. Keep in mind the purpose of this exercise was give the Government of Panama $2,000 (the duty on imported American cars was 125%). He and a guide he picked up to show him from office to office finally got to the last one before being allowed to pay at the National Bank. This small office had two guys at a single desk. John was directed to give his paper work stack to the first guy who put the stack in his in-box and said to come back tomorrow, adding that tomorrow was a half-day holiday and it was Friday, so come back on Monday. Noticing John's state of agitation, the guide pleaded with the two guys that John was a good Gringo, spoke the language and all and can't we expedite this process? So the first guy said to John, "Para usted servicio especial." He flipped down into the stack of paper until he found one he liked, stamped that page and passed it to the second guy who added his initial and handed the stack back to John. By now it was too late to pay, so he had to take off at an inconvenient time next day, because the bank was only open for 2 hours as it was a half-day holiday.

Panama in a nutshell.

Jack

There I Was, Again
03/19/2010, La Playita de Amador, Panama

Aeropuerto Albrook

March 19

Hello from Playita... Huh? WTF happened to Bocas? Here's the deal. Air Panama agent requested passport because Non-nationals now need one to travel in-country. Oh? Fine. Clearing out to Galapagos almost three weeks ago before transiting the Canal will probably just... um, er, hmmmm. "Sorry, Senora, forgot it on vela (sailboat)." Have been laying low (lying low... lying?) under the radar here in La Playita for extended period awaiting parts. Notwithstanding necessity for delay, am guessing that notoriously humorless immigration hombres (they have guns, right?) would have viewed my continued presence with some asperity. Best outcome, had departure stamp come to light, would have them insisting on clearance back in with only a scowl (plus a pile of dinero) and still resulted in no flight. Hey Guy, keep your place until the next circuit, OK?

Took opportunity to buy a few items at hardware and grocery then perform the odd boat project. Additional time allows discovery of new and more fascinating boat work.

Spectre of pizza deficiency unlikely to loom for some time as Pizza Al Leno is singular nearby location allowing simultaneous eating and interneting. Food's good, cheap and accompaniable (not a real word) by cerveza(s).

O dark 45 alarm this morning calls for early night.

Jack

Up for Some Down Time
03/18/2010, La Playita de Amador, Panama

March 18

Previously mentioned that a familiarity with Spanish would oil the wheels in Panama. True, but some of difficulty is that cruisers pass through to or from the Caribbean during a short season and aren't usually here. We are often just a demanding pain in the buttocks and not the center of their economic universe. Huh. And yet, except for the slovenly dress, irritating habits and disinclination to spend money, such a friendly rabble.

Finished (in the broad sense) organizing (broader, still) the saloon, topped off diesel and gas, charged batteries, made water, washed clothes, paid bills and attempted to straighten out confused financial data, managing to compress 2 hours work into 12. There was no slack in the schedule. Behold, the seductive lifestyle of a cruiser.

Jack

Going Green
03/17/2010, La Playita de Amador, Panama

March 17

No dim sum and no Mega Depot, but everywhere else. Filled in a few gaps at Riba Smith (US style grocery that allowed critical exchange of accidentally purchased creamy peanut butter for crunchy - dodged a bullet with that one!) while Whooshes got a skosh more. Freight forwarder from US inhabits same vicinity, so took possession of last big chunk of necessary gear. Now awaiting a few smaller chunks arriving Tuesday. Plan to blow this pop stand Wednesday for easier water in Las Perlas to clean bottom (no snickering) and confirm all particulars for eight day passage to the equator.

Continued attempting to rationalize boat interior. Each iteration helps one thing and discombobulates another, but progress, like that other stuff, happens. Mooched some plywood from a French boat to restrain under-dinette storage items without putting too many nail holes in the furniture. Saloon appears nearly habitable with even room in quarter berth for the odd nap.

On the VHF cruisers net this St. Patrick's Day after someone asked about locating a traditional meal (specifically mentioning Americans who can be more Irish, today, than leprechauns) Dickie, a self-described "proper English gentleman", came on with idea that someone could call The Balboa Yacht Club to organize some corned beef and cabbage. When net control suggested that might be a good job for him, he declined incredulously, with irreducible logic and in very proper tones: "but I'm English".

Jack

Weather or Not
03/16/2010, La Playita de Amador, Panama

Provision Arrestor

March 16

With addition of a couple slabs of wood, strategically placed, to inhibit irrational exuberance of refreshment crates, cartons and cases, boat is within striking distance of navigating vast chunks of ocean. By way of a little recreational kvetching, will be heartily glad to do just that and bid adios to Panama. It's been interesting, occasionally beautiful and certainly symbolizes a milestone, but has also represented more work than fun. Itchy feet require new horizons with greener pastures and... well, there's a metaphor in there somewhere. As an aside, if you plan to come this way, learning Spanish would be a fine use of time.

Besides applying organizational skills to secrete items where they will never again be recovered, have attempted to find and catalog weather and navigational resources available via HF radio just in case being surprised loses it's charm. However intriguing, an unexpected and protracted calm, for example, seems rather remote while attached to the bottom near a city, but, somehow, lurking somewhere deep in the sub-conscious, resides the idea that it wouldn't be half the fun one might presume. Avoiding murder of an albatross, while poetic, might be insufficient.

Redux of last Wednesday's escapade with dim sum, hardware, chandlery and groceries (where minimum purchases are this time contemplated) plus possible pass by PakYa Panama shipper to take possession of wind instrument spare will occupy tomorrow. Previously conveyed plan for next ten days is still in play. Hope 'play' isn't just a figure of speech. The play's the thing, but what was the 'thing'? Involved murder, but not of a gooney bird.

Jack

Venture to Persist?
03/15/2010, La Playita de Amador, Panama

March 15

Crews flying the Pacific referred to Japan as the land of no plan "B". No problem here as we ran out of letters while down-locking. Advisors were conferring, debating and communicating on their UHF radios as plans changed literally by the minute. Three ship, two ship, center lock, tied to a tug. We twice attached to lock walls awaiting a ship and its tug, onto which, as it then moved ahead, we tied one side then the other. Fortunately, crew on other boat was less lackadaisical than day before.

Upon arrival at La Playita, Whoosh made a pass by Anthem to which, with cat-like grace, I leapt to re-discover the apparent after-effects of a tornado in her saloon. After contemplating that catastrophe for awhile and attempting to reconfigure Airmail from failed transmission attempt with Jack T's SSB, retired to his boat to retrieve stuff, swill rum and fail miserably, but with great pleasure, to reconcile my political philosophy with his experienced reality.

Tuesday will end in success with disappearance of all provisions, awash below decks, into, under or behind some form of restraint from which it can eventually be recovered in much the same condition as last seen. Initial assessment of likelihood is discouraging, but will, to quote Chief Dan George in "The Outlaw Josie Wales", "endeavor to persevere".

Jack

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