all locked in
6th May 2013
We arrived in the Galapagos yesterday afternoon at Isla Isabella. Sea lions, blue footed boobies, pelicans, iguanas, all can be seen from our deck. But before I get all enthused about the wonders of the Galapagos I better catch up with what we have been doing since I last wrote. We have to wait until this afternoon for the officials to come aboard so an ideal time to catch up.
We intended to stay at Shelter Bay Marina as short as possible, we had done most of our provisioning, canal transit date set and then Alan developed some dental problems. Luckily there was an excellent dentist in Colon but it meant we had to delay our transit 6 days. Our agent wasn't too happy but Ida the dentist had a word with him and he changed our date. Our friends Amanda and Patrick on Egret happily took our place and transited the canal much earlier than they expected. On the day that we decided to delay our transit I had just bought all the fresh food for the transit and our line handlers were organized. Egret had not done any of that as they were still a few days away. The line handlers were happy to jump ship to Egret and Amanda decided to take a lot of the food I had bought so everyone was happy. I had visions of the two of us ploughing through 16 bread rolls before they went stale.
Shelter bay marina is quite isolated from any shops. The marina is set in the Sherman American Military base, although now the base is only a shadow of its former self and the jungle is gradually reclaiming some of its grounds. The Marina runs a free shuttle bus, Monday to Saturday, to a shopping centre 30 minutes away in Colon. The supermarket is not overly big but has most things you need for provisioning. So when plans change you just can't hop down the road to get what you need. To get to the dentist we got the bus into the mall then a taxi through Colon to the dentist. Colon is not a place to wander by yourself or even get a bus so luckily taxis were quite reasonable. Each taxi seemed to take us a different way through Colon giving us a good look around. Colon is full of dilapidated buildings, unpainted and falling down. I am not sure why anyone wants to stay living there. We were continually warned about keeping safe and certainly Colon is probably the most seedy, hot, grubby and dangerous looking place we have ever had the pleasure to drive through. However as much as their physical world is scarred and falling down around them the Panamanians seem to take great pride in their own appearance, I guess it is the one thing they can control. I hasten that 2 hours away in Panama city there is a mix of Colon type areas as well as sprawling areas of modern high rises with huge modern malls bringing a glitz to the city.
At last transit day came, ropes, tyres (for fenders), 3 linehandlers and food on board. We motored out of the marina across the bay to anchor on the Colon side at the Flats where our advisor came on board. Each boat has an advisor on board, although not fully qualified pilots they take the small boats through the canal. For boats over 65ft you get a pilot and basically can go when you want. The smaller yachts have to wait for a time slot that suits the canal authority which is arranged through an agent. Our cost including agents fees was $1800 US and we had to feed the advisors "man sized meals". If these gentlemen decide they are not fed well enough they can order a meal delivered at the cost of the boat owner, around $200 delivery fee. I think everyone was more worried about what to feed them than the intricacies of the actual locking through the canal.
George our advisor for the first day arrived at 4pm and enjoyed the afternoon tea of filled rolls. He didn't stay for dinner when we got to Lake Gatun where we stayed the night. The next morning, Ivan, our advisor for the second part of the canal, got on board and tucked into a big breakfast, enjoyed his lunch, two bowls full, and left with a smile. We weren't sure what Panamanians have for breakfast, it seems like a big bowl of cereal, fruit and yogurt followed by a good sized omelete is a good start. After the cereal I asked if he would like an omelet�...."of course". Our line handlers were easy to please, Chris and Amy young Canadian backpackers enjoyed the home cooked meals. They were on their way home after backpacking around South America for 8 months. Our other linehandler, Dylan also a Canadian, lived on the boat next door to us at Shelter Bay. We enjoyed our transit with these young people, they all knew their way around boats and were full of interesting stories about their travels. In fact our line handlers didn't have much line handling to do. We transited the locks as the middle boat of a nest of three. So maneuvering into and out of the locks, was controlled by our advisor while Alan did most of the driving with the other two boats helping at times. Between locks we untied and travelled individually. On day two, as we were about to enter the first lock of the day the French boat lost a fender. Ivan said we had to pick it up. Three yachts tied together turning around to pick up a fender takes some organizing, the fender was eventually retrieved on the third go.
The Miraflores lock where you go down to the Pacific is where there is a visitor centre and the best web camera. We waved to the visitors and the camera hoping someone may see us. I know from looking at the camera that it doesn't give a close up view of the yachts. Some people saw us go through and figured we were the middle yacht. Thanks to my sister Angela for snipping off some shots for us to look at when we get home.
Gates to the Pacific
The canal transit takes 2 days for small boats. The first step is to go up through the 3 Gatun locks on the Atlantic side which takes you into Lake Gatun, the huge manmade lake in the middle. We then tied up to a buoy for the night and the next morning a new advisor arrives at about 6am or 45 min late as ours did. The boats then motor 28 miles through the lake and down the Gillard cut where hundreds of men died hewing through rock and fighting mosquito so that we could take a short cut into the Pacific. The three Miraflores locks then ease the boats gently down into the Pacific. We thought ahh, the Pacific then we looked around and thought this is not Pacific like. The interesting sunny day had turned into a grey afternoon surrounded by dark water and a grubby hot steamy city. We didn't want to stay long. We finally anchored at La Playita near Balboa outside Panama city. We wanted to stay as short a time as possible. We finished our provisioning, bought a few essential charts, a farewell dinner with the Yindee Plus family and Egret, plus all the usual pre departure things then Tuatara and crew were ready for our Pacific journey. Three days, a good turn around helped by taxi drivers who like dealing with yachties. One of our last provisioning jobs was to get fruit and veg, for this we went to the huge Abastas market for fresh unrefrigerated produce. The taxi driver took us to, "my friend" where we ticked off over half our list. We continued wandering around choosing pineapples, mangoes and melons from huge piles destined for much larger customers than ourselves. As we left the taxi drove past trucks laden with bananas and plantain. We stopped to buy bananas from a truck who had some small crates sitting on the back. We said we wanted about 3 dollars worth, not really knowing how many that would be. The vendor then proceeded to pick up the whole crate to put in the boot. We eventually said ok we just want 2 dollars worth so the boot was opened and he piled in the bananas until we said stop, we still ended up with enough for a large family. The large pile was quite green so are lasting well, although I think a banana cake could be on the menu in a couple of days. Panama may have some grubby cities but they can grow beautiful produce including the best pineapple I think I have ever eaten.
One last internet session and we set off for the Galapagos, 950 miles away. A good northerly pushed us out of Panama but two days later we started a frustrating journey of head winds with swell and current against us. Light winds in the second part were also frustrating and in all we motored half the distance. A small error of staying too far east after we left Panama cost us about half a day even so we managed to arrive in late afternoon and settle in for full nights' sleep. We are now rested and ready for the delights of Isla Isabella.