02/12/2013, Panama City
Chaotic Harmony splashed down into the Shelter Bay Marina after a hectic, work filled 4 days on the hardstand to polish her sides, service the saildrives, scrape off a zillion barnacles, get rid of the lousy antifouling paint we put on in Grenada and replace some thru hull fittings that were leaking and install a new sonar transducer (big job). The paint we put on in Grenada was actually Micron 66 but I think it was Dulux Wash and Wear. The sonar transducer on the larboard side hull had a worn cable and was inoperable so the whole thing needed to be cut out (big, big job) and a new one bedded down with blocks. It now works so we have a working sonar which is the first time in over 18months as we have been eyeballing and leadlining our way through the Caribbean. The old thru hull fittings on the starboard side were not being used and one was actually leaking so they were removed, a new one begged and borrowed was too small internally so we reamed it out with a hand held drill (yacht lathe) and fitted it in along with the new depth and speed fittings for the Ticktack system along with the necessary transmitters. Splash time and the fitting leaked like a high pressure hose so back up for 5 minutes while it was sealed with 5200 and then a quick motor to the dock before the �"Oyster Rally�" fleet arrived for a berth before our departure the next day to the Panama Canal. To Transit the Canal you need permission arranged 10 days previously from the ACP (Panama Canal Authorities) which is granted after an Admeasurer : 1. Checks, inspects and measures the boat; (we came in at 48 feet, 11 inches, not bad for a Catana 42) 2. an Advisor from the Authorities, 3. 4 line handlers, 4. 12 good sized fenders (wrapped tyres), 5. 4 x 22mm inch lines of 40m each 6. a working LOUD horn, 7. VHF radios, 8. good heads for the Advisor, 9. provision of bottled water and good meals for the Advisor We were given a 1530 transit time on Sunday 10th February and had to be at the �"F�" (or flats) anchorage by 1300 to receive the Advisor whose job is not to pilot the vessel but rather to Advise on your transit. You are solely responsible for all. That morning we received notification that no line handlers (whose job it is to haul in or let out when being lowered the were available due to �"Carnival�" but two turned up anyway and we begged and borrowed Dylan from the Shelter Bay Store and Bernadette from �"MacPelican�" who wanted the experience for her transit on the following Thursday. CH departed the slip at 1230 with fenders rigged, line handlers aboard, nerves jingling, ropes flaked and motored the 3nm to the flats with a very slippery bottom and arrived on time to wait for the Advisor who turned up just after 1600. We ran a safety briefing and immediately raised the anchor and motored a few miles to the (very imposing) entrance to the Gatun Locks. Once there Chaotic Harmony was informed that we would be �"nesting�" and she would be the centre vessel of three so we headed into the wind and allowed �"Jac�", an Australian flagged sloop to tie up port side and �"Sapphire�" from Canadia tied up to starboard. Under this arrangement CH was needed to provide the engine power and steerage for all three vessels and therefore was given the responsibility to get all through safely while I felt the need to depart for the heads for immediate nerve reduction. A rather large freighter entered lock 1 at about 1700 and we were then instructed to enter this turbulent zone at 3 knots and come to an immediate stop when instructed with �"please sir, stay in the centre�". At about this stage nerves were truly jingling but it all went extremely smoothly except the bloke piloting �"Jac�" was a bit deaf and laid back and I had to yell my instructions to him. The turbulence as the water enters the lock to lift you is incredible and still churning and added to as the freighter uses its engines to move to the next lock assisted by the canals mules. The view �"down�" to the Caribbean was wonderful. We then had to motor through into two more locks following the freighter before finally entering Gatun Lake at about 1900 and tying up to a 3m diameter rubber covered, concrete buoy to disembark the Advisor and settle in for the night and wait for another to arrive at 0600 the next morning. Moises was our Advisor and a very nice fellow who complimented us on our perfect and professional stress free transit. This comment made all the nerves disappear and we looked forward to the Miraflores Locks with relish. We were now between 85m and 100m above sea level. Cerveza all round and a lovely lasange followed by Tic Tac Toe where Gill thrashed all. A rainy night and Howler monkeys kept us up but at 0500 I raised the crew and we cooked a BBQ steak and eggs brekky and by 0630 we had left for the transit of Gatun Lakes and the other 3 locks which would lower us into the Pacifc Ocean. Gatun Lake was the largest man made lake when the Americans dammed it up for the canal until the Chinese built a bigger one in 2010. It is picture postcard perfect and it was a pity we could not stop longer as you see lots of little hidden bays and lagoons that would be fun to explore. Apparently when the Americans ran it you could do this but now it is business only and the more vessels that get pumped through the quicker the better. They are currently building a 3rd set of locks here at both ends and this is an engineering feat that is still massive, even 100 years after the original canal was opened. The size and scope is unbelievable. We had a great motor at 5 knots with Ricky aboard as our new Advisor, Jo and Bernadette cooking up a storm to feed all 9 of us and Gill now an official line handler. It was all so perfect that everyone except the skipper actually watched movies or got a snooze or two in. All other boats took off at great speed but our lake transit saw us arrive within 20 minutes of transit time and low fuel consumption. This time we nested with only �"Sapphire�" and entered the first lock with several tourist boats and dropped down 32 feet very very smoothly except for a granny knot having been tied on one of the lines. Staying nested we motored over Miraflore Lake at 6 knots and bulldozed our way in for the second of three drops. Uneventful and stress free and the water turning brackiish once again. Motoring into the third lock and warnings issued about the influx of salt water creating a 4 knot current with increased turbulence when the gates into the Pacific are opened. It was not that bad as we just had to have engines in reverse but still went through like a champagne cork. Thankfully aware of the benefit of dual engines and drives. During the third and last lock we all sat on deck waving at the camera and hoped that some of you saw us as we transitted. We played Men-at-Work's �"Land Down Under�" over the (very) loud speakers and everyone danced including the Advisor, crew and line handlers. The song must have been heard from a few hundred meters and the dancing was photographed by all of the tourists on the tourist boats with us in the canal as well as in the Observation Tower. The time had arrived and we motored out into the Pacific Ocean, loosened the lines and cast off �"Sapphire�". We are now serenely anchored at the La Playita anchorage while we wait for Carnival to finish so we can shop for fresh food and leave for French Polynesia via the Las Perlas Islands by the end of the week. Stressful ? Only the anticipation of the transit was stressful.. The actual transit was a fantastic experience, a dawdle and great fun and Ricky the Advisor again complimented us on our perfect transit, professional crew and wonderful accommodations and food aboard Chaotic Harmony. Cerveza time........................
02/11/2013, Panama City
We have made it through the canal. Now in Pacific Ocean. What an experience. Will send a blog soon.
02/01/2013, Shelter Bay, Colon
Well, since our last post we have left the San Blas Islands and Chaotic Harmony is safely tucked away at the Shelter Bay Marina. It is a bit like
Darwin here except for the weather. Lots of sunshine and showers but without the killer humidity.
While we were at the San Blas we ran into the Kids Fleet of "ONE WORLD" (USA. Wes, Kim, Laily, Max, Ella and Solomon), "BLUE KAI", (USA.Danny,
Susan, Hannah and Rye) "FLOUR GIRL", (USVI. Kim, David and Zac), "SINAN" (USA. EJ, Shana, GiGi and Jason) "SWENJO" (CANADA.David, Natalie,
Maxim, Goyim and Noami) and "MAC-PELICAN" (AUST..Paul, Bernadette and Finnley) and have sailed on and off with the fleet since then making new
friends along the way. We also met up with "SYNERGY" (John and Cindy) and "SAPPHIRE M" (John and Marion) . So now for the first time since we left we all have friends on boats and will sail the Pacific with the majority of them. Keely has made good friends throughout as usual and especially with Hannah.
Even the radio skeds had a kids part. Everyone wanted to know where the kids fleet was. The kid boats so they could meet up and the childless so they could stay away or join us and meet the kids. It made for a really fun time. There is now a dedicated kids net so we can keep in tough at 0800 local on 8107MhZ.
From San Blas we made a quick 6 hour trip in blustery N trades to Isla Grande about 60nm to the west and promptly decided to leave first thing in the morning. Isla Grande isn't so grand. It is a tourist destination for the Panamanians and water taxis scoot past the boat at breakneck speeds. Next stop was Portobello with its forts, shops and history. We stayed a few days and soaked in the pirate atmosphere as it was here that all the South
American gold was shipped and it became a favorite sacking, pillaging and raping ground for English buccanneers and crown approved pirates. Rumour has it that pommy land would be broke many centuries ago if it was not for the murderous intent of these guys. We celebrated Australia Day here with a cold beer at 50c a can and thought about the state of Oz and if we should ever go back.
Actually we be back in Australia for Christmas 2013 and plan to make landfall in Sydney so we can watch the NY fireworks display from Sydney
Harbour before heading north up the East Coast and onto Queensland and make a decision to move ashore or go back into the deep blue.
On Gill's birthday we dressed ship and with our colours and all signal flags flying we sailed the 20nm to Colon which is the entrance to the Panama
Canal, arriving on time to have a birthday party here with LOTS of kids including ONE WORLD's tribe who spoiled him rotten. Gill had one present of chocolate and chips in the morning but is now the owner of a new speargun, wetsuit, gloves and Leatherman tool. We will fill out the remainder of the dive kit in Panama City in a few weeks as Gill is not only the Ships Master Diver but also an adept hand at spearing crays. With Gill now being 14 he becomes First Mate and will keep sea watches with Jo and I meaning more sleep for the big passage ahead.
There are about 10 Australian boats in the marina so it is interesting to once again hear the slang and vernacular of Aussies. The flags stayed up till the 30th as we also flew them for my birthday and it brightened up the marina to the extent that the manager wanted us to keep flying them. Keely has made many friends and is a good mate of Hannah on BLUE KAI.
Colon is interesting as the marina is on the site of an old US military and training base and there are dungeons (CIA training), ammunition, old
abandoned buildings and lots of cool things if you are a teen. Colon is where we will haul out and scrape the bum and repaint it (pun intended) We will haul out on the 4th February, scape and paint, do a bit of varnishing (if I can with kids and cat) replace the sonar transducer and install some new instruments that we have picked up. Back into the water on the 8th or 9th and our transit is booked for the 10th February. You can see us transit on the web at http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html
The transit times are not known but I think we should be entering Gatun Locks for the raise upto the lake at about 0500-1000 local time. You work it out as we are 5 hours behind GMT here and in Australia at present it is anywhere from 9 1/2 hours to 11 hours ahead of GMT. At 0500 in the morning here it is 1000 in London and around midnight in Australia heading into the next day. They are scheduling yachts for a 2 day traverse at the moment due to one of the locks being inoperable so if you miss the 10th we will traverse the Miraflore Locks on the 11th.
From Panama we will head to French Polynesia and drift across the Pacific to Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands and onto Sydney with enough time to
spare to let Santa know where we are.
01/14/2013, San Blas Islands
Hi all, Chaotic Harmony is still at the San Blas islands just to the east of Colon at the northern entrance of the Panama Canal. We have been enjoying our time here and have met some very nice people; some of whom will be crossing the Pacific with us this year including the crews of "Synergy" and "Sapphire". The photo above is of Tizer the HoP in his favorite fishing position.
Christmas came and went for us at Coco Bandero Cays. Santa came on Christmas Eve to one of the small islands where the kids had built a small thatched hut to allow him to leave some early presents while the adults joined in the excitement. Christmas Day started at the usual time of 0500. The booty was small this year as it was a long way for Santa to come but we eventually sat down to a great crab and crayfish lunch washed down with cold wine and beer. Our friends from SINAN, EJ, Shana, GiGi and Jason joined us and it was a day of fun with kneeboarding, swimming and kayaking after lunch with all the kids fleet who had assembled at the cay.
We have had a good look around this part of the world and it is quite beautiful but would have been a lot better some years ago. Several of the cruising boats have been here for years and the fish get smaller and the rubbish collects. We have a vege and beer boat calling to us most days so essential supplies never seem to run out but the flour situation will become critical in a week or so.
We have met up with John and Cindy from "Cynergy" and really enjoy their company. Both John and I are similar and even Jo and Cindy treat us both the same way so we commisserate well. They will cross the Pacific with us this year. Keely has made friends with Hanna on "Blue Kai" and so we try and meet up with them as often as we can. We met up with Kirk on "SALSA" who we first ran into at Cocos (Keeling) Islands and again in Hout bay in South Africa so it has been fun discussing the things that have happened over the last year.
2013 came for us on "CYNERGY" and surprisingly we all made it to midnight. It did take a few days to recover the lost sleep as we all hit the sack around 8pm exhausted after a day on the islands.
The next day we sailed to Salardup Island to meet Lisa the transvestite and Master Mola Maker for our trip up the Rio Azucar to see the jungle and waterfalls. The Kuna people are female oriented so if there are no daughters the first son is evidently raised as a girl so there are a few around here. Lisa took us for a small boat ride to the river, up it for a kilometer and then a massive 4km trek up the mountains. The trail is easy to follow but very steep and very slippery in places. Keely made it all the way with a little chocolate for encouragement. We are all very proud of this. We eventually made the waterfall and had a great time. It was fresh water to swim in which was a novelty and had small deep pools you could dive or jump into from between 3 to 6m up. Really cool stuff for the teens in the group. The trip back was down river for 3km and required us to swim, walk, stumble and tube down several smaller cascades. It was smiles all round but on one tube ride I lost my sunnies while Keely rode my back down the tube. The last section was overland and once again Keely made it although it was a bit tiring for her and all of us then back through the cemetery and the waiting canoe for the sea trip back to Chaotic Harmony.
We are currently at Nargana Island which is a small Kuna town waiting for the supply boat to get some eggs and flour and a few other treats if possible. They have internet access so we are able to get this through to the web. Today we dingied up the Rio something or other (Diablo) to see if we could find and monkeys or tapirs as it is wild country and rarely visited. We found diddly squat wildlife but lots of graves.
Plans are now to wait for our friends from "ONEWORLD" to arrive for a small holiday here then we leave San Blas for Colon and Shelter Bay Marina where we will haul out on 4th February for a bottom job and a few minor repairs before traversing the canal and heading out into the wide blue Pacific Ocean. Currently we are hoping to be in Sydney by the end of 2013.
Tizer the HoP has discovered the sugarscoops are an excellent fishing platform and now fills the cockpit with weeds and is quite proud of himself.
To our family and friends and those wonderful folk we have met so far on our travels we hope you all had a lovely Christmas and a good start to the New Year.
12/15/2012, Coco Banderas, San Blas Islands
San Blas Islands
We are at the San Blas Islands and I must admit it is a bit hard to handle. Back to the life of long sleeps, fishing, snorkelling and beach combing.
The trip down from Colombia was ROUGH. It is apparently one of the roughest coasts in the world. We left Santa Marta at about 1000 Monday morning 10th December 2012 into a 20 to 25 knot NE'er looking forward to a good sail on a bright sunny day.
The wind gradually rose to about 35knots as we passed Barenquilla to port about 15nm offshore and then rose again to approx 45 to 50 for the rest of the night. Bare pole sailing for us all night at 7 knots with warps streaming. Day 2 saw the wind moderate back to 20knots dead astern with us on a course of 240T and an incredibly confused sea that made everyone including the cat slightly seedy. We were due in at 1900 the second day but discretion saw us slow down again to arrive at sunrise at Coco Banderas Cay. Anchor down by 0800 and it was so so good to be back in clear water, coral, fish and islands after the over-hyped, degraded and polluted Eastern Caribbean.
We are visited daily by dugout canoes that wish their phones to be charged or to sell crabs, crayfish, fish and the lovely Molas they make. I suspect I have a MOLA shirt for Christmas but will have to wait to confirm. Tizer the HOP is finding it hard to have actual sand in his kitty litter tray. Poor little lamb has finally had his claws cut back so the genoa is safe for a little while.
The weather has moderated and we have a lovely anchorage and this morning swam and snorkelled the outer reef but no large fish for the gun. Keely has managed to feed us with small Sweetlip so we hope she continues her fishing for tonight.
Gill is now 1st Mate and is under heavy training to become skipper. He now must do everything Dad does to learn the art and science of seamanship and is excelling at this task. The rate he is learning I will be bale to pass on the mantle of command within 6 months. Perhaps we have another explorer/expeditioner in the family.
Jo of course reckons this is great and she no longer needs to remember everything she does not really want to. The extra sleep and relaxation is good.
Plans? We will hang here for another day and head to some more islands before Christmas in Lemmon Cays and Gill's Birthday in Shelter Bay, Panama. The Canal is scheduled for late February so then a few more years in the Pacific and we are back where we started.
Photos when we get the Internet. So be patient.
12/10/2012, SW Caribbean Sea
Well we left Santa Marta this morning at 0930 into a near gale and have been averaging 7 to 12 knots with a scrap of genoa flying. Seas are quite rough and boisterous and at the moment we are about 10nm off the coast in 4 to 5m seas. At this rate we should arrive at San Blas perhaps tomorrow night but I think the last 100nm will be a bit slower.
CH going well as usual. We remembered to close the hatches this time so she is quite dry but occassionally getting pooped by breaking seas. Tizer a bit crook but getting better.
Will write a blog of the trip after arrival.