Shelter Bay

Blue Sky's Voyage
George & Michael
Fri 11 Dec 2009 18:03
Hello Friends                    "9:22.05N 79:57.03W"
(revised blog)
Our second jungle exploration in the Chagres was slightly more successful - as you might expect with the skipper conducting a reccy beforehand. It seemed sensible to start where the bank was higher so that at least we weren't floundering around in the marshes. Anyway, we clambered up to a hilltop for half an hour before realising that it was all very much the same and we couldn't see anything because of the continuous canopy of the forest. It is also true to say that our intrepid explorers were thinking of getting back to Blue Sky in time for lunch...
Fortunately Alex, or 'Rambu' as he's become known, had hacked around so much that we were able (but only just) to find our way back to the dinghy by literally following the marks on trees. One bit of jungle looks much like any other. The only thing of interest that we managed to see was a 'poison dart' frog, a tiny black thing with bright green spots. Here's a borrowed photo of this type of frog up the Chagres (not ours sadly) and a pic of a sloth which we should have seen, but didn't, also from the Chagres.
The second day we were in the river, we noticed a sudden increase in current as the sluice gates were opened at the Gatun Dam. We knew about the risk of a sudden flood so we'd set plenty of anchor chain and we were quite safe as the current went up to 3 knots.  Alex, undeterred by the flood, decided to go for a swim anyway, fortunately holding on to a line from the stern of Blue Sky. The current was so strong that we nearly had to winch him back to the yacht... we think he looks a little stressed in this photo:
Since returning to Shelter Bay marina, at the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal, we've been quite busy, an unusual experience for Blue Sky.
Our new anchor chain arrived on time - 400 feet of high test 5/16 inch US made chain which is nominally slightly stronger than our previous 10mm European chain, but the smaller size and thus weight, allows us some extra length without having the bow too low in the water. Alex and Matt were a great help with removing the old chain and marking up** and installing the new one. (** mark up with paint, cable ties & plastic inserts every 10 metres so we can easily see how much is deployed.) Michael did a presentable job of making the chain splice on to our 80 metres of multiplait anchor warp and we sincerely hope that our 200 metres of scope will be sufficient for almost anything.
The AIS box, a Raymarine AIS500, was fitted with only minor hiccups. Fortunately the device comes with all necessary bits, so it's just a matter of making all the connections and siting the GPS antenna (the 5th on board). The AIS would not talk to the plotter initially, so we repaired to the pool for a swim and lunch and gentle contemplate. That always works and whilst half snoozing I realised that the NMEA (data) connections needed the 'send' and 'receive' swapping so that the send of one was connected to the receive of the other. That did the trick straight away and we saw hundreds of ships, as far as 60 miles away, though I suppose this is a kinda busy area for shipping...
Our new windmill was a simple connection and whilst we were disappointed that the previous windmill was dead after less than 4 years, the Air-Breeze is much cheaper ($750) than the alternatives, so I guess we just have to replace them when they die.
Our final indulgence was a new outboard motor for the dinghy.We've gone a bit mad and invested in a Tohatsu 18hp motor - about 14 kilos heavier than the 8hp Yamaha, but powerful enough to plane** with all 4 of us and provide the option of wakeboarding. (** plane - when the boat lifts up and skims across the surface rather than displacing the water.) Our first gentle excursions, whilst running-in the new engine, suggest that it will be very fast when using full power.
We've also taken a little exercise, with morning walks or jogs according to taste. We've not seen an anteater yet, though we did have to drive around (a live) one on the road to Colon the other day. There are plenty of brightly coloured birds around, lots of these yellow jobs which liked to perch on the rigging in the Chagres (I've no idea what they are) and the other pic is a kingfisher in the Chagres. Our photos this time: the kingfisher was rather a long way off, hence poor photo.
And finally, the latest news is that as of a few minutes ago, we've been Admeasured for Canal Transit and we hope to go through on Wednesday and Thursday next week - 16th, 17th December. There are high resolution webcams of the locks, so depending on which time zone you're in, you may be able to watch us going through if there's nothing else on TV. The link for the Gatun locks webcam is...
We should be going through Gatun Locks in late afternoon on 16th - and we're UTC-5 in Panama, so maybe around 2200 in the UK, 2300 in Europe, 1400 in British Columbia. The following day we proceed through the Gaillard Cut and then Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks into the Pacific though I'm not sure of timing there. If anyone does manage to watch us, please try controlling the webcam and take a pic of us for the blog - thanks!
As has been observed, this is the 'crossing the Rubicon' moment when we mentally commit ourselves to a full circumnavigation - which does feel quite strange.
Further blog posts will be made just before we go through to confirm timing. Until then the shopping continues.
Best Wishes
George, Michael, Matt and Alex