Heading for the Panama Canal N9 22 W79 57

Gryphon II
Chris and Lorraine Marchant
Thu 18 Mar 2010 22:45
Reluctantly we left the San Blas as we wanted to get in the queue for the canal. In some years it has taken as much as 5 weeks to arrange the transit so getting our names on the list feels important. We had no wind for the first time in a long while and had to motor all day to reach Isla Linton, a beautiful and well protected anchorage, surrounded by hills and forest. In the evening 2 dolphin swam within a few feet of our boat and in the morning we were awoken by the sounds of howler monkeys exercising their lungs.


We have been taken by surprise by Panama, we had no idea it was so beautiful with such wonderful forest still in what appears pristine condition. We had read that the San Blas were special but the whole countryside is outstanding, there are spits and spots of villages along the coast, small and usually of thatched single storey buildings that blend into the background so well. The coast just goes on, unspoilt, for mile after sea mile, green and lush. The howler monkeys are a constant presence and dolphins are everywhere; sometimes in harbour the water seems alive as fish are frequently jumping, splashing and thrashing through the water.


Another 6 hours motoring took us to the harbour at Colon, the start of the canal and a very different Panama. You are advised not to walk around Colon at all as it is a muggers' paradise. As a result we opted for the charms of the Shelter Bay marina which could be anywhere except for the temperature and a nice pool, the restaurant is just okay and the Panama beer is quite good.

The next stage is a bureaucratic nightmare of clearance, immigration, boat measurement by canal personnel, customs, cruising permit, indemnity forms, skipper's responsibilites and arrangements for line handlers, transit advisors, extra fendering and extra long warps. Fortunately there are agents who, at some expense, do the running around for you so we took the easy option and employed Stanley, Jamaican ex-taxi driver and now a canal agent, general factotum and jolly personality.We expect to have to wait another week to get through the canal but have lots of jobs to do.

Before we go into the Pacific we must:

  • inspect the mast fittings and the rigging

  • find new diesel jerry cans since our expensive one split and it's partner was dumped incase that split

  • complete many sewing jobs, repairing, strengthening and making various items

  • fill our fuel tanks, a bit of a palaver here

  • derust various bits and pieces that have never rusted before but the salt,humidity and heat promote it and skippers always seem to be busy cleaning it up in these climes

  • completely reprovision the boat ready for the long hauls of the Pacific. All dry goods packs such as flour and cornmeal have to be microwaved for 90 seconds to sterilise and kill off any minute unwanted stowaways so once the bulk shopping is done the stowing takes an age. Fortunately we have found a supermarket that will deliver to the marina. Fresh food is a problem as most of the fruit and veg in the supermarkets has been chilled which means it will not store on the boat as our fridges will be full. The market is the only place to buy good fresh produce but we understand that we must go by taxi and use the taxi driver as a body guard as 'gringos' are not safe in Colon city.This is so irritating! We shall probably wait until after our transit then go into Panama City from Balboa, it is too far from here

  • get our gas cylinders filled so that we have a full complement before we leave

  • stock up on prescription and other medicines which one can buy over the counter here for a fraction of the price at home. We have already needed 3 lots of antibiotics so are making sure we have the range recommended in the Skipper's Medical Emergency Handbook which is extremely useful

  • inspect our water tanks to ensure they are wholesome still

  • do cleaning, cleaning, cleaning!

In between all this we shall try to swim in the pool and drink cold drinks because it is very hot here.

4th Night in Shelter Bay Marina

We have now had our cruising permit, the admeasurer has been and our transit number has been alotted but we have no date as yet. Those who had been given dates have been bumped back by at least 2 days and are not happy chaps. There is a rumour that some key canal staff want a pay increase, they are not allowed to strike so the whole lot have called in sick. What will happen next we don't know. The Marina management are agitated as the Marina is full and having to use a quay still under construction, they count on a regular turnover of boats and boats coming to the harbour are unaware of the situation and are still turning up at the Marina.

On a lighter note we had a pontoon party last night and met some very interesting people, many of the people here have been sailing for a long time. There are quite a few Australians who go to USA or Spain to buy boats because it is so much cheaper than Australia, others who are going back home after working in UK or have been sailing in the Mediterranean. A number of Canadians and Americans who have done circumnavigations and are on their way back to sail up the East Coast home. Then there are others like us who are setting out on their Pacific journeys and are anxious to make a start. In the marina there is one Japanese boat, one Spanish boat and one Swedish boat, the others are American, French, Dutch, German, Antiguan, Australian, Canadian, American, South African and just four English boats including ourselves. We share a pontoon with a very friendly young American family in their 40 foot Halberg Rassey, granny and grandpa have just arrived hoping to go through the canal with them. There are a few motor yachts here, most under Panamanian flags but may not be Panamanian nationals. One yacht is so large it loaded 8,000 gallons of diesel and took 2 hours to re-fuel.

So here we wait with our jobs list and hope that we will soon be informed of our transit date. We have just spoken to some French friends who are supposed to be going through on Sunday but they arrived before us. We must just be patient.