The Panama Canal
01 February 2013 | 9 21.89'N:79 53.59W
We have left Portabello. It was a cute little town with a ton of potential. On the last day we went in to provision a little. There is a beautiful church that houses the "Black Christ". People from as far away as Guatemala travel here on their knees as a pilgrimage to pay tribute. The church is exceptionally nice but I can't imagine crawling over all that garbage on your knees to get to it. This is the dirtiest town we have ever seen. There is garbage in the streets everywhere. There is an empty lot where you can drop your garbage off for $1
a bag. They burn some of it and the rest just blows away. The people that live there just seem to throw their garbage in the street. It's a shame because this could be a great tourist destination. The people are all nice and they do seem happy so maybe they just prefer it that way.
Bad news, Blue Kai will not be transiting the canal with us. They have decided to return to Florida. This is sad because they are really nice people and a big part of our cruising group. We are going to miss them a lot. It looks like it will be us, Sueno, and MacPelican crossing together. A lot of our other friends are going as well. Dolphin of Lees is crossing today!!!
We came into the Canal Zone yesterday. It was a little scary pulling in, this is a HUGE shipping port. There are freighters everywhere, lined up to go thru the canal and more coming this way thru from the Pacific. The canal is not really designed to cater to the small cruising yachts and the facilities are just not great. We had an appointment for the admeasurer at 8:30 so we came in and went to "the flats", which is where cruisers can anchor. We have heard bad things about the flats. Bad holding, robberies, a long dinghy ride to the dock. We got measured and headed over to Shelter Bay marina. Our friend Ian on Chaotic Harmony said we should be able to anchor in the back of the marina. We didn't want to call in case they might tell us "no". We also wanted to take there free shuttle bus to pay for our transit, which needs to be done before we can schedule our canal transit. We got there, across the entrance channel of the canal
and Sueno went in first, no problem. MacPelican next but they bottomed out in 5 feet of water. No way we can go in with our 6 foot draft. MacPelican came out followed by Sueno. We headed back to the flats, planning on a long night. We got a call on the VHF from Walka Irie telling us of another place we could anchor. They did say it wasn't great but that it was far better than the flats. We found our way over to them. It was a tiny little makeshift anchorage on a lee shore between some channel markers that the tug boats use. Our first
attempt at anchoring failed but the second time it took. Somehow all three boats squeezed into this anchorage. The guys got into Sueno's dinghy to go in and get the process rolling.
I stayed on the boat to make birthday cakes for Finnley and Noemie, Zack went over to Sueno to play. Everything was going great. A pilot boat circled by us and I stuck my head out of the companion way. One of the guys was pointing and saying she's there. The boat started coming towards me and I was thinking oh shit I am going to have to move and David just left. The guy was shouting "pesce, pesce, fish, the fish" I was trying to figure out what the hay he was talking about when I remembered that Zack has a barracuda head hanging off the back of the boat. SO I pulled it up and said "Solo la cabeza, mi hijo es loco" It's only the head, my son is crazy" They laughed and left. Phew! I was finishing the cakes when Nathalie called to say that Noemie's birthday present was here, just look outside. I went out and a cruise ship was backing in. A huge cruise ship! It was abour 150 feet away from me and I thought I may need some evasive maneuvers. But those guys can drive and we were fine. Or so I thought. I heard a crash on the side of the boat and ran up. We had been anchored about 25 feet in front of a channel marker, (not a great choice but the only one we had) now the marker was hitting the bow of the boat. SHIT we were dragging. I was alone and the guys were all on shore. I started the engine and motored up to keep the boat from going anywhere. I heard MacPelican talking to the guys on shore so I broke in and called for help. Paul offered to swim over but I was fine, so I just waited for David to come from shore. We pulled it up and all was good. But where to anchor now? This is a seriously crowded anchorage. We started driving around and some guy is on the front of his boat waving his arms in an x and looking very much like he is telling us not to anchor in front of him. JERK! We make a couple of attempts at reanchoring but they fail. The guy waving his arms is like frantic by now so we go by him and he is actually telling us to anchor on the other side of Sueno. We had thought of this but it was awfully close to where the tugs come in. He says it's fine. At this point we would have tried anything. We drove up and threw the hook in 15 feet which was a lot better than the 30 we had been in. The anchor took. We were a bit close to the channel, heck we are in it. Lots of tugs and even bigger boats have come in, one kept a spotlight on us, and all has been fine. So I guess we are staying here. Thinking about it later we think the prop wash from the cruise ship must have dug up our anchor because he would have gone right over it. Lesson learned.
We had a nice dinner on Sueno for the birthdays of Finnley and Noemei. David stayed with Flour Girl because we were both a bit wound up after the whole dragging thing. Needless to say neither of us slept all that well that night.
The guys went in and finished our paperwork and we are scheduled to transit the canal on February 16th, which is David's birthday. Sueno is going thru on the 13th and we are all going to line handle for each other. Zack is really exited about going thru, there are supposed to be alligators and all sorts of wildlife in the canal. Wish us luck!!
A little aside about Zack. This kid is amazing at math. He is in 2nd grade but doing 3rd grade math. We started on multiplication and within 3 weeks he knew all his multiplication tables up to twelves. We were playing math for candy and he was getting way to much sugar so I told him he would have to do division if he wanted any more. I thought that I was safe as he has never done division. I
explained that division is the opposite of multiplication and gave him a couple of examples. He got the first 5 correct so I had to quit. We have done 2 lessons on division and he knows all his division tables. He has also started reading chapter books. If only he liked writing that much! He is doing great and having a wonderful adventure!!!