A couple of lazy days to catch up with
17 April 2021 | 09 22.025'N:79 56.642'W, Shelter Bay Marina, Cristobel, Panama
14th - 16th April
09 22. 025 N
79 56.642 W
Weather; dull and raining lightly, wind n/a, waves n/a
No doubt you've been wondering where I've been for the last few days, the truth is that there hasn't been a great deal going on and I just got a bit of a go slow on and couldn't be bothered to sit and type!
When I left off we had just been released from quarantine, not a moment too soon and had bumped into Shona who told us about the facilities in and around the marina, we had our first drink and meal ashore which turned out to be good value for money - especially the drinks during happy hour where a shot of rum cost just $2.50 (and they are double shots) and a beer costs $1.50 - one could very easily get drunk or at least very happy!
Although we had spent our quarantine period doing not very much we were quite tired and chose to have an earlyish night expecting to have to move docks the next morning.
So when the next morning came Gerry was eager to get busy and start organising stuff, his first outing of the day was to the dock master's office to see about getting our propane bottle filled, this was going to take a couple of days but the marina arranges it so that was sorted out and our bottle left at the office. Whilst he was there he found out about arrangements for getting laundry done and put our name down for Friday at 8am and at the same time put our names down for the free bus to the supermarket on Friday afternoon leaving the marina at 1pm and returning from the shopping centre at 3pm. At the same time he asked about moving slips and was shown where we would be going to - one dock over on C dock but it wasn't going to be today, they would let us know when. He returned to the boat saying that he was going back up to the shop in half an hour as they were about to take fresh baguettes out of the oven so he had his name down for a couple plus he wanted to take our joiner bit of canvas (the bit between the dodger and the Bimini) over to the sail maker to see about getting a new one made, meanwhile I sat idly by looking for inspiration as to how to use the ripe pineapples that we had been gifted from our agent. After returning with the fresh baguettes we made pigs of ourselves indulging in still warm fresh bread -yum! We didn't want to plan any jobs for today as we had been informed that the admeasurer was coming today to fill out our paperwork for the canal transit and that he could arrive anytime up until midday. You really don't want to miss the admeasurer as without his paperwork you won't be going through the canal so we sat and waited, reading and catching up with emails. Somewhere around midmorning the man appeared and came aboard and the process began. It used to be a case of the admeasurer would literally measure the boat and you were charged the prescribed fee for whatever size your boat was - this was the case when we went through the canal last time but since then the fee structure has changed and every boat up to 65feet in length pays the same fee and as we fall into this category there was no need to measure our boat. Having said that he did actually measure the overhang at the stern to make certain that the dinghy hanging on the davits didn't exceed the 65foot limit. As with all contracts, which this is, there was a ton of paperwork to be completed, copies of our boat documentation etc to be handed over and whole lot of explanations, questions and answers to be sorted through. The form filling involved all aspects of how much our boat weighs, what mechanical speed we could maintain, what engine revs were required to maintain that speed, how much fuel we could carry, how much fuel we would use in an hour at our stated maximum maintained speed.
As an aside - everyone declares a speed of 8 knots as this is the required minimum for all northbound traffic through the canal as that transit is done in one day, if you are travelling southbound, as we are, there is a minimum speed requirement of 5 knots as the passage is done over two days with an overnight stop in the Gatan lakes. If you declare anything less than 8 knots though the (not so smart) computer system that our details are entered into will spit out a penalty fee for holding up traffic even though you aren't actually holding any up, so with this in mind the admeasurer always puts 8 knots down whether you can do that or not if going southbound, to prevent the generating of the fee.
Where was I? the paperwork, we then got into how many people we have to have on board for the transit - 4-line handlers, an adviser and a helmsman (including us in whatever capacity, other than adviser, we choose), all of whom would require feeding, a place to sleep and a toilet with a holding tank. The lines we would need - 4 x 125 x 3/4 inch and a whole load of large fenders. We were aware of all of these requirements so it didn't come as any surprise, we had already spoken to our agent about the extra line handlers, lines and fenders - all supplied at a cost of course. Finally the last bit of information was the 4 ways that we could transit, these being as follows;
By ourselves in the centre of the locks
In a raft with, usually 2, other boats, again in the centre of the locks
Tied to a tug boat which in turn was tied to the wall of the locks
Tied directly to the side of the lock.
We had to decide which of the options are acceptable to us and we will then be scheduled according to which acceptable option is available at the time of our transit. For almost every sail boat going through the canal the option of tying directly to the wall is a decidedly unacceptable option as the turbulence when the locks fill with water can cause the boat to bob around and the chance of damage to the mast and/or the side of the boat is greatly increased. The other 3 options are all doable so this was documented and it was time to sign the waiver that is required by the canal authority, I'm sure this is being very carefully scrutinised after the recent incident in the Suez Canal!
Once all the paperwork was completed we were then issued with a Panama Canal transit number which remains with the boat for its lifetime and is used each and every time the boat goes through the canal.
Another side note here - our boat has been through the canal with the previous owners and when we bought the boat there was a Panama Canal transit number document which Gerry threw away when we re -registered the boat as an Australian boat, it turns out that the transit number would have been the same if we had kept the darn piece of paper!
The admeasurer left with all our paperwork in hand to add to the computer system and we have our card with our Canal Permit number on it, all ready to go when we are allocated a transit date after requesting it.
Paperwork takes it out of you so we decided at this point that we needed to get off the boat and go and have a drink at the bar, we only went for one drink and then returned to the boat and spent the rest of the afternoon doing very little. I made a tropical pineapple upside down cake in the early afternoon, it got finger blight as soon as it was cool enough to cut - see the photo!
Gerry thought that we would go up for happy hour later but I said that I didn't want to go so we stayed tucked away watching TV for the evening.
On to the next day and there was even less happening, Gerry went back to the sail loft to get the quote to have a new Joiner piece made and came back in shell shock. The guy wanted our first-born child in exchange for a new joiner which used the isinglass and zippers that was in the old joiner, he would supply less than a meter of canvas and sew it together. Gerry had spluttered and politely declined to have it done, settling for a strip of reinforcing material over the bit that had worn through. To say we were disappointed is an understatement as the canvas work in Panama is usually very cheap compare to elsewhere, I am beginning to think that we should have had the whole enclosure re made in Colombia where it was still quite cheap rather than wait until we got here. We wondered when it had become so expensive in Panama to get canvas work done, guess we will never know but maybe we will look into another sail loft on the other side of the canal.
We had a surprise visit from Shona in the early afternoon and sat chatting for a while about all things to do with sailing including cooking after giving her a piece of my cake which she tormented Gavin with by sending a photo to him.
The day was raining on and off which made us less inclined to do anything or to be bothered going anywhere until happy hour when we joined Gavin, Shona and their grandson Brody for a couple of adult beverages. Gerry and I stayed at the bar for a cheap dinner and then returned to our boat for the night, still on the quarantine dock by ourselves.
So we get to Friday and the rush to do everything in one day! As Gerry had put our names down for laundry at 8 am we had no choice but to get moving. I stripped off the bed and gathered up everything in sight that needed washing whist Gerry got dressed and ready to take everything up the dock to the laundry. He wasn't gone long when there was a knock on the side of the boat and the dock master asked to speak with the captain having been told where Gerry was he disappeared, it was obvious that he wanted to move us today but it was also obvious that he wanted to tell the captain rather than me so I just let that one go. Gerry returned and I let him know that we were on the moving list today then the dockmaster appeared and they spoke in terms of a few minutes for us to take down our awnings, put the wheel in place, disconnect from shore power and water, change the fenders and lines to the other side as we would be tying up port side to. The dock master went away for a few minutes whilst we readied for the move then by the time he reappeared it was beginning to rain so he decided that we would wait until the shower ended, I was out on deck ready to throw lines etc and was by now soaked to the skin - throw me a bar of soap and I won't have to waste our precious water supply! So Gerry and I sat in the semi open cockpit getting wetter by the minute (remember the joiner piece of canvas is currently MIA) patiently waiting for the rain to let up. As it finally stopped we were ready to go but over the radio came a call from an incoming boat and the dockmaster gave them directions to proceed in, make their way to our dock where he would meet and tie them up. We had a clear view of the entrance to the marina from where we are docked and couldn't see the approaching boat so we would still have plenty of time to move to our new slip before they arrived but the dockmaster asked us to wait until the new boat was tied up. At this point an office guy rocked up with our filled propane tank, something else to tick off the list of jobs for the day. When the new boat finally arrived he put them in front of us, across our bow which we thought was a bit stupid as we could have been well out of the way giving them easy access. Once they were docked and tied up it was finally time for us to have our lines thrown aboard and we motored the short distance to the next dock and into our new slip where we were quickly tied up and plugged back into power. We were in our new home for the next week or two.
Gerry had said that the laundry lady had told him our stuff would be ready at 9.30 and as it was now just on witching hour he went up to collect it and at the same time was going to go to the customs and immigration offices to check us in officially as our agent didn't think he would be able to get across to this side today before the office closed (it was apparently only open from 9.30 until 1pm today). I suggested that he might go to the customs and immigration first just in case the laundry lady was running behind and the drier took longer than she thought. Meanwhile I got out of my very wet clothes and had a hot shower, made the bed and tidied up. In the end Gerry reappeared much quicker than I had thought he would, with laundry bag and a look of total disgust - there was no port captain in his office so no checking in until 10.30, Gerry twiddled his thumbs whilst I folded our laundry and stashed it away. I was a bit surprised to find out that the laundry lady didn't even put the washing in the machine to begin with - unbeknownst to me Gerry had done that, and all she had done was to transfer it to the drier and then drop it all into a basket (Not even our laundry bag which was next to it) when the drier finished. We had to use our own washing powder and then fold our clean laundry, plus pay for the privilege of having a "service wash" - it wasn't quite the service wash we had expected but we will know better next time! 10.30 came and Gerry headed off once again to the office to get us officially checked in, returning minutes later and I knew without even asking that he still wasn't in the office so we couldn't get checked in - come back in an hour! At the rate we are going we won't be checked in before Monday! Gerry occupied the hour by putting the newly filled propane bottle into the gas locker out of the way and then at the appointed hour made his way up the dock once again. Third time was a charm, he took long enough for me to know that the port captain had returned/arrived at his office and we were getting the checking in sorted out or that Gerry had finally had enough and was in the bar getting smashed! He did finally reappear at just after midday with the news that we were all legal and checked in hooray!
As he sat down I said we should take a slow walk up to the supermarket bus as we didn't want to be the last ones on it, Gerry looked at me sideways and said we have plenty of time as the bus doesn't leave until 2pm. A short sharp argument ensued as he insisted that it was 2- 4pm and I was certain that it was 1-3pm. I said we probably should check on this and got the reply "well no one is stopping you", I headed off up the dock to check, convinced I was right. I returned, banged on the side of the boat and told Gerry to get his arse into gear as it was a 1pm set off - never doubt she who must be obeyed! We made it to the bus with seconds to spare but luckily weren't the very last ones to arrive and off we headed to the shopping centre. On arrival our first stop was an ATM and once we had won the jackpot there we headed into the supermarket and did the usual perusing up and down the aisles to check what was on offer and picked up enough stuff to fill a small cart. We were a little circumspect as we had only brought our backpacks plus 2 small carry bags which wouldn't hold a great deal, luckily there was enough space for a heap of chocolate and a couple of bottles of wine so Gerry was more than happy. It won't be the only time we go shopping so I wasn't too concerned about all the other stuff we will need to stock up with. We had done our shopping dash with half an hour to spare so we made our way across the carpark, taking our life in our hands as the traffic was horrendous and not stopping for anyone, to the Dairy Queen that we had spotted as we both fancied an ice cream and I needed a cold drink. Once done with the refreshments we went and stood at the bus pickup point and waited for our ride back to the marina which was a few minutes wait. Once back at the marina we unloaded our shopping and then made our way to happy hour where we met up with Gavin and Shona, Brody and another Kiwi couple - Ross and Annie. Now I am a little in awe of Ross and Annie, they are both in their early 70s and have been living the cruising lifestyle for many years and love the lifestyle. As a reluctant sailor I don't know how they have done it for so long, nor how they have afforded to do it for so long! Annie told me that they tend to spend 6 months on board their boat and then 6 months back home in New Zealand so I guess it's not so "full on" all the time and they do get time away from the water. Having said that they have certainly had their fair share of things go wrong and excitement, they are currently waiting on a new rudder to arrive, due at the end of May, from Denmark for their boat having lost their rudder when they hit a whale! I kid you not, and if that wasn't enough of a story Annie went on to say that this was the second time in a year that they had hit a whale - I'd be worried about things coming in threes at this point! We have seen their boat, a Hanse, from the dock and it looks immaculate, I'd love to see the inside and to know what gadgetry they have aboard to make sailing easier on themselves in their advancing years as they have no intention of stopping sailing anytime soon, and I do mean sailing not just sitting around in marinas. Annie also told me that they tend to hire a car everywhere they go so that they can get out and see the country which I totally agree with - so many marinas and anchorages are miles away from anything that you want to visit that car hire needs to be factored into any sailing plan. I was a little put off though when she told me that they have had no end of problem with the car hire company here in Panama as they keep processing more and more payments for the one week that they had hired a car for and although they have the company's promise to refund the overcharged amounts it is slow to do so - not good for their business and off putting to prospective clients that Annie and Ross have related the story to! There were many places that Annie told me about that they have seen that I would love to visit but to be honest I'm not so sure I want to live the lifestyle, reluctant sailor that I am.
Well that's all that has been happening to date. We haven't seen much of anything around the place as we are so far out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by jungle and water, it is decidedly tropical wet season weather with thunder and lightning storms every afternoon, we can hear the howler monkeys early in the morning or late in the evening if it's not raining and there are buzzards along the mangroves opposite the marina, not much to take photos of but I'll do a walk about in the next couple of days and try to give you an idea of what it's like here.
Meanwhile we will be here until our new auto pilot pump plus the spare brushes arrive from the states, we aren't going anywhere without George back in working order!