11 May 2012 | 08 54.5'N:79 31.7'W, Panama City
We arrived in Panama City, with jaws hanging at the site of dozens of container ships at anchor peppering the horizon, and far more tall buildings defining the skyline of the city. While en-route from the Cocos I hired a ships' agent (Associated Yacht Services) to process our immigration and canal transit paper work, this service is really nice as within an hour of landing at the Flamenco Marina (also arranged by Alex) we had finished most of the paper dance and were enjoying a cold ice cream. The following day we were inspected by the canal authority as part of the transit process, and because of the size and value of Hekla he recommended that we be assigned a canal pilot instead of the "advisor" usually assigned to yachts under 65'. The value of this is that we changed from a 16 day wait to 3 days, without paying the $2500 pilot upgrade fee! All in all the canal transit and associated fees cost nearly $4000, but better than the alternative... We hung out with an Austr alian catamaran being delivered from Italy to Australia by a delivery crew, most of the crew were changing here. Since they are stopping at the Galapagos and our bright and hospitable crew-cook young Peruvian woman Jami needed transport back to Galapagos, she arranged a position on that boat, and could then keep the air fare money I gave her. Adventuress Jami is resourceful and enjoys sailing! I heard that they were going to start training her on watch keeping instead of simply cooking.
We spent 3 hot and stinky nights at the marina, then fled the city. The boat was covered with an oily soot from the air pollution. Although we could have arranged the canal transit quickly, we chose to spend a few days in solitude, without crew, in the sparsely populated Las Perlas Islands, 35 miles away. Delightful! There we found some nice beaches, which are only uncovered during the lower portion of the 5-meter tidal range, and interesting though murky snorkeling. Navigation was once again pins-and-needles, with rocks and reefs abounding and the electronic charts lacking most details, but "The Panama Cruising Guide" by Eric Bauhaus is excellent, filling in the blanks with charts of his own research.
Now we are back in Panama City, awaiting instructions for our transit scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, May 12. Happy birthday Dad! We will have 5 extra people on board, the pilot and 4 hired line-handlers, whom we must feed and provide drinks. There is a web camera in the locks, accessed through www.pancanal.com, (sorry, my internet connection is too weak for me to find the exact link), and if you would like a text-message update when we are entering the locks so you can see us live, please let me know asap by email or text and I will send you an update.
Thereafter we will leave the boat at the well-managed Shelter Bay Marina on the Atlantic side, and return to Fort Collins by Friday. It almost feels like the end of an era, but really it is just the end of one chapter.