Preparing to transit the Panama canal

Lynn & Mike ..around the world
Mike Drinkrow & Lynn v/d Hoven
Mon 5 Mar 2012 14:39
Preparing to transit the Panama Canal
We had a great visit to Fort Lauderdale, while TIME2 was being painted.  Once again we enjoyed the hospitality of the Patersons, in between buying boat parts. Below are pictures of a fun evening with Will & Di, and their daughter Mandy and her kids at the local German restaurant The Old Heidelberg.
I also succumbed to my electronics addiction by buying an iPad and a Kindle reader, both of which I am enjoying immensely.  Even Mike is enjoying the game "Angry Birds"!
When we flew back into the Panama airport we were stopped by customs due to the large box (the new pump) we had. What followed was totally bizarre... While there is no customs duty for parts for a "Boat in Transit", it would seem that they wanted an agent to clear the goods. Mike went to the office where forms were filled in and $23 was paid over. They never inspected the box, looked at an invoice or searched  the rest of our luggage, just wanted to know the value and weight of the pump.  I went out of the customs area to find our taxi who could perhaps help us - he then called the office and disappeared to produce his license and sign another form.   I was left standing there, very confused.
When Mike finally came out of the customs area, he had a customs official with him, who then proceeded to get into the taxi with us?!  At this point I need to explain that the customs official and our taxi driver, do not speak English, and we don’t speak Spanish, so we still have no idea what is going on.  Anyway, we set off for Colon, which takes over two hours in really bad traffic, only to turn off at the port. The customs official then gets out, goes into into an office, only to return to fetch Mike. I am now convinced that we are in for a HUGE bill!   But Mike goes in , pays another $12.50 and then the Colon official and the Airport official walk him back to the car and cheerfully wave us off. ????!!!  And our taxi takes us the rest of the way (20kms) to the marina.  So, although they were strictly following their procedures, which apparently state that they must ensure that the parts are delivered to the boat, they never actually came to the boat.  Was the customs guy just looking for a free ride to Colon?  we will never know!
Back at the marina, TIME2 was looking good with her new anti-fouling bottom paint.  We were able to launch her this morning and then get down to the nasty job of cleaning off all the muck from the boat yard. There has been a lot of wind and no rain, so she was covered in all kinds of dirt.
We have enjoyed our stay at Shelter Bay Marina, where there are many boats waiting to go through the canal. We have met some great people, including Rixzene and Steve on their 47ft Leopard cat, Poyugan.  They had tried to buy our old catamaran INDIGO up in Annapolis, but she was already sold....  Small world!
We now have a confirmed date for our canal transit - 7 March - starting at 5.30pm.  In the past, private yachts took 2 days to go through the canal, with an overnight in the Gatun lakes, but due to the amount of traffic, this has changed. We will now go through the canal in one shot - overnight. First we go through the 3 Gatun locks, then we cross the lake and head for the Pedro Miguel & Miraflores locks. We should exit in Balboa by midnight. We have been assured that the whole route is buoyed and floodlit where needed.  We have been using a very helpful agent, who is providing the tires to protect the boat, 3 line-handlers (I am the fourth one) and the long lines needed to guide the boat through the locks. While Mike will do all the driving, he will have a canal advisor on board to assist with the process.  Here is a map of the route.  There are live webcams of the locks, which may be interesting to watch albeit in the dark! (we are 7 hours behind SA) This is the link:
Next update ... the Pacific!