Well the passage that felt like it would never end did end yesterday and we arrived in Panama to Shelter Bay Marina right at the canal entrance. We covered over 1000 miles between here & Georgetown, Bahamas and it was good to sort of catch up to where we'd planned on being by mid February. We left in a calm weather window with light winds in a trough which was good for the first part except that the trough followed us down till well below Jamaica so we had practically no wind for the first 4 days. The Windward Passage was windless and hot! Anyway, then we got a great wind but a little more motion than we wanted since we still have nausea from the ciguatera so I guess that contributed to the passage feeling long. Then on the last night at 12am, I was all settled in on watch with my caramel popcorn, watching a movie, doing the usual 360 degree look over the horizon every 5 minutes and a peek at the instruments, when suddenly we jibed (thankfully we have the new boom brake installed!) - the autopilot had decided to turn in for the night. It was brand new in Ft Pierce. We had a back-up autopilot but the company discontinued all repair parts for it so now it is basically junk and we couldn't engage the windvane since our course was dead downwind and bearing off would've meant we couldn't get to Panama in daylight yesterday so we ended up hand steering for the final 17 hours. That changes everything when you've got a 2 person crew! So needless to say, we were pretty excited as we closed in on Panama yesterday with about 50 ships around us. We got tied up at the marina and were in bed by 9, apparently dead to the world since Slick pulled in to the slip next to us shortly thereafter and knocked on our hull but neither of us heard a thing! It was 11 hours straight of pure sleep!
We didn't celebrate two holidays on this passage- my birthday and Valentine's Day. The closest I got to a birthday present was Jon waking me up at 1230am for my shift and singing happy birthday to me and then saying he was giving me "a watch" for my birthday- yeah, a night watch! Not the timepiece! But he says he'll make it up to me here. I'm waiting......
The passage was pretty quiet on the wildlife front. We saw a bunch of dolphin as always, a few birds, dorado jumping out of the water chasing flying fish and of course the moon was really nice to have. There was only one dead flying fish on deck when we got here which is a lot less than what we usually have. They "fly" right up on the deck and you don't find them until you go forward which isn't very often on a passage. Much to Jon's disappointment, we didn't fish at all this trip on account of the ciguatera- I told him he could but I wasn't up to eating fish or to cleaning it. I hope the symptoms pass but they are definitely lingering and every time I have a beer my feet itch like crazy- another classic symptom. But with $1 beers at happy hour here and a great crowd of sailors from all over the world, it is hard to pass up the opportunity to get to know some of them.
It took hours today to get checked in to Panama, to the marina and to meet our canal transit agent Erick who will help with the scheduling and hopefully smooth passage to the Pacific side of the canal. The new word for the day is "compulsory tip" for the port authorities. Oh well, what can you do? I got the boat hosed down and spiffed up, we hung out with Tim & Nathan some and began troubleshooting the autopilot. Before we knew it, the day was over. We hope to do some inland travel here if time permits and we've got to figure out the autopilot and do some other repairs/fix-it projects. Hopefully getting things shipped in here won't be too difficult. Then another round of provisioning to officially overstuff the boat so we can make it several months minimizing the amount of food we need to buy and we'll be ready to go. We were last here in 2009 but decided to turn back to go make some more money instead of head through the canal. So this feels like a long time coming. Very exciting.