Blog 11. Panama. 08.54.40N 79.31.54W

David Batten
Thu 4 Feb 2016 00:26
Sunday, 31 Jan 2016. A morning of last jobs before leaving Shelter Bay. A last bird watching session in the lovely jungle around the Marina, joined by two "Lydia's" . As we saw a mother Sloth at close quarters with her baby, and several other boat crews heard of it and joined us. As the numbers, excitement and noise increased, the poor sloth eventually crept away, but not before a mass of photographs had been taken. No doubt there will be a lot of Facebook and twittering if anyone can get a strong enough internet connection. We also saw a large group of monkeys, definitely adult Howlers and what we thought might be Spider Monkeys, but were later informed was a nursery of young howlers, plus some lovely woodpeckers, euphonias, tanagers, wrens, orioles and the usual fly catchers, mocking birds and grackles. To us, being in Shelter Bay with its own nature reserve is as good as it gets.

Then it was the last load of washing, another boat clean, last fill up with water, last Internet session while the boat was fumigated, last order of bread from the restaurant and prep of the ropes and fenders for the canal, delivered yesterday. We had been given a "Pilot" time of 16.30 and orders to leave the Marina by about 14.00 on the VHF by Rally Control, then last minute instructions were given to leave earlier as a huge motor vessel was coming into the Marina. This was promptly followed by another communication from Rally Control to wait for the boat to dock as it was nearly in. We could all see the boat, so as soon as she docked, lines were let go and all the boats in the first Canal Transit started leaving the marina. Apologies to Two Fish for finding ourselves in front of you instead of behind you as planned, so you had to wait for us.

The whole canal experience is definitely unique and not to be missed, from the time the pilot boat dropped one Advisor onto each yacht anchored in the Flats, to the time the second Advisors were picked up from the boats on the approach to the Marina, La Playita, on the Pacific side of the canal. Our first Advisor was called Moses, pronounced Moyses, very laid back and chatty and very keen that we should enjoy the experience. He managed to keep two very different yachts, Mearra Nieida and Alcedo, with two very different crews, going in approximately the right direction at the same speed and in approximately the centre of the locks. We had supper before reaching the locks, Mearra Nieida had supper while we were in the locks, Moses drank water and Coke, the other Advisor drank beer and wine with supper. Rafting up was a little exciting, as we joined Mearra Nieida, she having set off for the first lock at high speed and was waiting for us. Definitely not an easy manoeuvre and it took some time to adjust the lines to Alcedo's driver's satisfaction. Then we had to keep out of the way of 2 large vessels going in opposite directions as they passed each other, one coming out of the lock the yachts were going into and the other going into the lock alongside. As we were the last raft in, we had the most waiting around to do, but had the advantage of watching other rafts in the locks so we could learn the "ropes" from them. Our crew worked hard at keeping the boats in the middle as the locks filled and the ropes needed taking in and the skipper's wife had her steering skills tested entering and leaving the locks with Mearra Nieida as well as keeping pace with the rope handlers ashore. Thank goodness for an excellent supper produced by the Ship's Boy and Jane that Moses claimed to have enjoyed very much. When we reached the Gatun Lake, we were very glad of Mose's directions to the rafted up yachts, 6 boats on one raft, 11 boats on our raft by the time we joined it (we think, it was hard to count!) it being pitch black by then. The Advisors were picked up and we enjoyed a much needed anchor nip in a fortunately perfectly still evening, before retiring for much needed sleep.

Monday, 1 Feb. Next morning, Francisco, our next advisor, joined us at about 07.15 and we set off in a great convoy, with an excellent breakfast being produced on Alcedo. The lake is stunningly beautiful and we had plenty of time to enjoy the scenery as we motored in convey at about 6 knots. Then another great meal in good time to give our full attention to the rafting up and the Millaflor Locks, this time with the water running out and the ropes needing letting out, the Lake being 26 meters above sea level. We also had one rope handler that was not as fit as he might have been and who allowed one of the ropes to snag as he got left behind, so close attention needed by the crew at all times. Francisco had the raft completely sussed by the time we reached the third lock and directed us with military precision and Sargent Major commands: "Pekka, Sally, forward, minimum, now" etc. So now we are in the Pacific, a major landmark for us, safely through the Panama Canal, our journey made so much easier by the World ARC organisation. The rafts broke up, our buoys and ropes were sent ashore with Blue Summit and we anchored off La Playita in what the Ship's Boy described as the middle of the Pacific, well away from the Marina entrance and other yachts to allow for swinging space in the unpredictable currents off this shore. There were comments about taking sea sickness pills and needing safety lines on deck, but after some serious retail therapy resulting in a very smart and expensive set of plates etc as a present for the boat from the crew and several anchor nips, we all slept surprisingly well.

Yesterday we concentrated on boat jobs before visiting the Mall and buying rubbish bins so we can comply with the rubbish management rules in the Galapagos. Today we did a tour of the City with Oscar, a very nice taxi driver with a very nice vehicle, no English but we have our own interpreter of course, so no problem for us. The boat has been scrubbed and we have stocked up on alcohol as we will definitely not be buying it in the Galapagos or the Marquesas. Tomorrow we get our night in the Marina, as there is a rota, there being space for only five boats at a time, so we will do the supermarket shop and fill up with fuel etc and, of course, there is more washing to be done. Will some photographs find their way onto the blog tomorrow? Hmm.



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