13 April 2007 | Lat 08 56'N, Long 79 33'W
Our last report found us on the Rio Chagres River, on the Caribbean side, just 7 nm west of the breakwater at Colon and the entrance to the Panama Canal. One hour motoring got us to a slip at Shelter Bay Marina, a new marina (and very much a work in progress) across the bay from Colon. We stayed there for 13 days during which we provisioned, strung new spectra netting to replace the old trampolines (a REAL BIG JOB) and got our friends the Mazers (Larry and Phyllis) aboard for the trip through the Canal. Shelter Bay is a rather unique place in that it is the staging point for many southbound cruisers waiting to go through the Canal so it is a small community of fellow travelers with common interests. Many of those are families and we were delighted to see young kids, most in the 4-14 age group, playing together on the docks; a nicer collection of good-looking, cooperative, polite, well-behaved kids you could not find anywhere, all of them home-schooled and most of them Europeans. We expect to see many of these boats further on as we all seem to be going basically the same way, i.e. on the "Coconut Milk Run" across the Pacific. We were delighted to see that the group included a fair number of large (47 ft and up) cats, one of which was "Scout", another Chris White designed catamaran. (Small World Department: we shared the marina with "Emelia", a monohull that was at Sailcraft Service in Oriental NC when we were there last summer.) John and Larry had the chance to serve as line-handlers on a 43 ft Nordhaven named "Special Blend". Their trip through the Canal was absolutely without incident and really helped assure me that we would probably have the same experience. As soon as we got to Shelter Bay we called our agent and he took care of all the paperwork involved in checking in to Colon, arranging the transit, getting us 4 -125 ft hand lines, two professional line handlers, and a mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club at the other end. We could have done all this ourselves, and many cruisers do, but it sure was nice to be able to call Enrique and have him do it for us. Hiring the two experienced line-handlers was my idea because I was worried about inexperienced, not so agile people (like me?) handling lines from Silkie's very narrow pointy bows. As it turned out, Alphonso handled one bow, Barnaby from "Scout" handled the other bow, Engee and Larry were on the stern, the idea being to have an experienced guy fore and aft so they could keep an eye on the inexperienced guy opposite them.
Our trip through the Canal began at 1700 hrs on Tuesday, 4/10/07, when we left the marina with 14 plastic-covered tires (seven hanging per side), our 4 long handlines, our two hired line handlers and Barnaby and moved to "The Flats" on the other side of the bay to await the arrival of our Advisor. He showed up at 1900 hrs (in the dark) as scheduled and guided us through the Gatun Locks, a series of three connected up-locks that raise you a total of about 90 feet and let you out in Gatun Lake. We went through "center chamber", with a small freighter first into the lock, then a large private motorboat, then us. A few miles from the last lock, we tied up to an 8 foot diameter rubber-coated mooring buoy with another cat on the other side. Our Advisor was picked up by a ACP boat and we (all seven of us) spent a very restful night there. At 0630 the next morning a new Advisor came aboard and took us the remainder of the way through about 25 miles of Gatun Lake, then through the Pedro Miguel Lock (down-lock), a short distance through the Miraflores Lake and then through the Miraflores Locks, the last two down-locks. We went "center chamber" again with other boats in front and behind us. The Advisor was then picked up by a pilot boat and we made our own way to the Balboa Yacht Club mooring field a nm or so down the channel. Everything about our transit went well: both Advisors were very professional, spoke English, communicated with our line-handlers and the guys on top of the canal wall, were very knowledgeable about the workings of the Canal and enjoyed talking about it. All operations were slow, no hurry, no sweat, all under control. My only complaint was that the temperature could have been better regulated, i.e. 20 degrees cooler but hey, This Is Panama.
So here we are at the Pacific Ocean. We spent last night (Thursday) anchored off the small island of Taboga, a very pretty place where absolutely nothing is happening, perhaps because it is Thursday. We understand that this place really hops on the weekend when well-to-do Panamanians come with jet skis, boom boxes etc, to relax. and have a good time. As beautiful and nicely maintained as the island is, the water around it contains a discouraging amount of trash, which (I'm guessing) comes primarily from Panama City, all of 7 nm away. We are presently on our way (motoring, no wind) to Isla Contadora in Las Perlas Islands and will return to Balboa Yacht Club on Sunday to send the Mazers back home and pick up our new crew from Oregon. Then on to the Galapagos. The adventure continues.
Susan and the other one (whose birthday is today, he says he's 47, and if you believe that I have this bridge for sale, a really great deal . . .).