Sunday, June 24, 2012

Panama Canal Crossing

Panama Canal: The crossing

After much ado tramping around Balboa , provisioning, consulting with Rogelio the canal admeasurer, Roy the agent for visas, cruising permits, line handlers and pilot, filling out forms,  the big day, and the culmination the Pacific phase of our voyage, has arrived at last. We began with the inevitable schedule delays, as we were bumped back an hour or so to a 9am start. Eventually the three line handlers, Edgar, Omar, and Louis, and pilot/advisor Guillarmo, came aboard, and we were off to MiraFlores, the first set of three locks. The 'muchachos' were three very good-natured and well-mannered lads. Edgar, the youngest,  a quiet and rather chunky young man of 20, spoke no English, and Omar, a tall and athletic soccer player , 23 years of age, spoke little but understood everything. Louis, Roy's younger brother (our advisor),
stood 6 ft 4", had a  most imposing stature and presence. He was a jovial chap who kept the boys entertained , laughing, teasing and back-slapping them, loudly in Spanish. These boys could eat!
I spent most of the day captive in an insufferably hot galley, cooking and serving drinks to my beefy crew of five grateful males.
     The first set of locks went smoothly, as we tied alongside Tension Reliever, and in front of a monster super-tanker, to await the flooding of the locks. We stayed rafted together as we went through the series of lock chambers. By the time we hit the second set of Locks at Pedro Miguel it was becoming obvious we were not going to make the crossing in one day.
      This meant an overnight stay in Gatun Lake anchorage.  We tied up to an enormous mooring buoy 5 feet wide, with our buddy boat on the other side, a rather precarious operation, as we watched Omar hop off an onto the swaying buoy tying off our lines.  There we spent a long, sweltering night with everyone stretched out like lounging sea lions around the cabin and cockpit.  Next afternoon after numerous postponements and what were becoming increasingly cramped quarters, we finally set off with our new advisor pilot Armado for the Gatun Locks at Colon.
      Once again  we tied off to Tension Reliever who also tied to a 100 ft. power, tour boat, and waited for the waters to recede. This time we had to disengage for each lock chamber which made for some tricky manouvering in the turbulent lock waters. After the third lock the gates opened and we gazed out on the clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Mission Accomplished!
      Now we will spend a couple of days at Shelter Bay Marina (Colon), wash the boat, provision, bask poolside, and prepare for our next destination,Portobello and the San Blas Islands. This is our last cruising ground prior to leaving for Cartagena, Columbia where we plan to leave Chantey V during our three month visit back to Victoria.

Portobello, Panama
    The bay of Portobello was 'discovered' by Christopher Columbus on Nov. 2nd, 1502 during his 4th trip to Central America. The striking beauty of the sleepy little cove, with its' 15th century Spanish fortress ruins, gives the town its' name;  'Bello'! Pirates have descended on this tiny village on the Spanish Main numerous times over the years. Most notably by Francis Drake, and the notorious British privateer, Henry Morgan.  Henry snuck up on the garrison  stationed at the fort and sacked the town for gold, carting the loot back to Britain in the 1500's. All that remains are the picturesque, rugged stone walls and turrets, looking out on the now serene Atlantic waters. The pirate flag still flies at Jack's Bar, a local cruiser and backpacker hangout. The only remnant of Henry Morgan is a potent bottle of amber rum I spied behind the bar. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Canal Crossing

Chantey V scheduled transit time at Miraflores Lock is 8 to 9 am PST Sunday June 17th, 2012
UPDATE Transit time at Gatun Lock DELAYED to around  11  to 12 noon PST MONDAY June 18th, 2012.
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 Panama Canal
The famed Panama Canal was carved through one of the narrowest portions of the long isthmus that joins the North and South American continents, by poor, mostly immigrant workers, thirty thousand of which gave their lives to the enterprise.Since 1914 the sets of three locks have functioned flawlessly for almost 100 years. The Gatun Lake and Dam, part way across, was at one time the largest man-made lake and dam in the world. An amazing feat! Presently another canal access  is being cut alongside to accommodate even larger super-tankers. In 1989, some years after a student uprising that cost seventeen lives, the United States relinquished control of the canal to the Panamanians, an historic moment for this small country.
And in the midst of all this, here we sit, Chantey V rafted with our buddy boat Tension Reliever , making our transit through one of the biggest super-structures on the planet. Sort of makes one feel rather insignificant, doesn't it?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Costa Rica to the Panama Canal

 Golfito, Costa Rica
Whizzing above the jungle canopy at break-neck speed, teeth clenched and knuckles clutching the rope No... it’s not Tarzan and Jane, it’s our latest eco-adventure experience, ‘Zip-lining’!
The six marineros:  Rick, Roseanna, Tom, Lori, Daragh and Cathy, took the plunge and spent the day precariously  jumping off platforms 150 ft. in the air into a lush canopy of tropical foliage, as little yellow eyes watched in bewilderment from the treetops below. What are those loco sailors up to now?
In two hours we ‘zipped’ down eleven lines hundreds of feet long, and arrived at a tiny cottage surrounded by a lovely garden, where fresh water and juicy watermelon slices awaited us. A good time was had by all, but I think we would all agree, the peaceful Pacific, cruising along at five knots, is more our chosen speed. Cowabunga!


We said goodbye to Tim and Kathy and their four dogs and cat, at Land Sea marina and departed Golfito for an overnighter to Isla Parida, Panama. The afternoon rain held off initially but later the radar screen started filling with large blobs signifying clusters of heavy rain downpours ahead. We got ready and steered for the narrowest part but next thing Rick on Tension Reliever called us to lookout on the distant port side....a waterspout! We double reefed down and changed course to avoid it only to have another one develop on the starboard side! We split the difference and thankfully these and yet a third one had dissipated before they crossed our track. We spent much of the night dodging more rain clusters before arriving safely in Isla Parida shortly after daybreak. We had a pleasant couple of days here including snorkeling almost half a mile to the shore and back again.

Bahia Honda and the Simple Life
A tiny pueblo/village of two hundred souls greeted us as we set anchor in tranquil Bahia Honda.
A gregarious young boy of seventeen, Phillippe, and his friends appeared in a panga alongside.  Phillippe was one of the few villagers who spoke English well, and he was eager to hear of our adventure and share his dream of going to North America.  We handed out a few trinkets, and later he returned with a carved wooden souvenir plaque of a Tortuga (turtle), compliments of his father, and invited us ashore to his relatives’ casa the next day. 
The Panamanians here lead very simple lives with few of the trappings of the modern world...Generator power only for a few houses, one phone booth, no Internet, but a flat screen TV in the one tienda in town, which all the kids converge on. Their big, wide brown eyes and nervous giggles told us that foreigners seldom visit this remote island village. A cold drink at the bar/’soda’, and we were soon ‘talking’ with the locals, much of it in pantomime, and exchanging information. A trail through the thick jungle foliage led to a small church where a very traditional evangelical congregation sat, men on one side, women, in white kerchiefs, on the other, celebrating mass.  We cruised away next morning, admiring our Tortuga carving, a perfect memento of a treasured moment on our travels. Perhaps we will meet again, Phillippe?  Follow your dreams!

 Panama City
Our ten day journey down the Panamanian Coast was memorable if only for its` torrential rainstorms, waterspouts, huge swells, and ever-present surf which held us captive on our boat for days. Surprisingly blustery winds for this time of year, also made for good sailing, and we cruised into Bahia de Panama weaving our way through perhaps a hundred  tankers anchored in the bay awaiting passage through the Panama Canal. Our wee boat was dwarfed by the massive cargo ships in our midst, as we entered the channel and moored off of the Balboa Yacht Club (actually just mooring buoys , as the club burnt to the ground in 1998.)
Here we sit anticipating our trip through the world famous locks; one of the largest man-made structures on the planet.  Of course, there is the inevitable red-tape, paperwork and cash transactions , to make it all a reality, so we will bide our time in the city of Panama, whose monumental white spires loom  in the distance.