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Date: 03 Apr 2010 12:15:47
Title: Crew go to Panama

Hi all,
With Yellsound tucked up at Port La foret  for the Winter period, we returned to UK  in December  for Christmas and New year. November saw us through  the Beaune area to see Hillee and David in Freiburg, with some walking in the Black Forest and then thru Switzerland to Verona and Venice. Good decision to take Clio with us as it gave us so much flexibility in travel and with kind weather, made travelling very easy. After coping with the M27 or M6, the continental roads are much less stressful for long distance cruising. Anyway, back to Scotland and the coldest continuous spell of cold weather we can remember, 5 weeks of temperatures below freezing with all pavements proving themselves ice rinks and dangerous to the less agile. However, Hogmanay period spent in Argyll and Tobermory with our friends was great fun and somewhat different from how we had planned earlier in the year when we thought we would be in Caribbean on Yellsound.
We returned to France mid January for three weeks courtesy of  P and O ferries.- For £19 they kindly gave us 6 bottles of wine and took Clio and ourselves back to Calais. Good deal by any standards. Weather in France so much warmer than Scotland but still edging towards 0 degrees at night. We left to return to Uk mid feb for Aunt Pearls 95th birthday and celebrated with her and Carol and Richard  in the Isle of Wight on the 19th. The 24th saw us on the flight to New York to stay with Stevie and Sabrina for a few days, their new flat is located in Upper West Side in Manhattan, 50 yds from Central Park. When we left the forecast for the weekend was heavy rain and as Sabrina's sister and husband were visiting from Chicago, we booked to go to Newport, Rhode island for the weekend. However best laid plans----  from Thursday evg to Friday evg, New York had its third heaviest snow fall in the last 100 years - 31inches to be precise-  so the trip was cancelled and instead we decamped to a local hotel for weekend and met up with Suzy and MIke who were en route to Panama to join  Sammy and Mike for a cruise around the San Blas islands.  Saturday lunchtime however saw us in the Boathouse in Central park celebrating Stevie and Sabrinas engagement. Their engagement three weeks earlier was the second family(dorey) engagement  to take place in Central Park with Nicola and Jeremy becoming engaged on the same weekend some 7 years earlier.
The call came from Sam and Mike to be in Panama the folowing weekend so off we flew to Panama on Thursday 4th. After an overnight stay in Panama City, we took a taxi the 50 miles to Isla Linton, an anchorage on the North east coast of Panama and joined Sam and Mike, Suzy and Mike on Quartermoon (see Quartermoons blog on mailasail). From the snow of New York to the heat and humidity of Panama  0 degrees to 32 degrees.  It was so good to be on board and for the next three days we sailed westwards to enter Colon harbour and into Shelter bay marina where we were to arrange our Canal transit. Little did we know on arrival that we would be there for nearly two weeks- Not only was it the busiest time of year for yachts to transit the canal, but also the canal staff were engaging in buggeration tactics to secure more pay so we were given 5 transit dates all of which were cancelled before we were cleared for passage.
However Sam and Mike put us to good use with 20 tasks being completed on QM - the list kept growing  but once through the canal with Pacific crossing ahead, the opportunities for fixing with professional help would be much less.   In retrospect, the delay was a blessing as many friendships were made with other yachts being held up, all of whom were on the Pacifis Run. Particularly memorable was a party thrown by Rhiann Marie (blog also on Mailasail) for the crews of yachts who were meant to be canal transiting with them. Rhiann Marie is out of Inverness, a Discovery 67, owned by Stewart and Trish Graham of Gaelforce fame. Stewarts long time sailing buddy Angus Johnson hails from Shetland and knew Peter Griffiths, the builder and former owner of Yellsound so was good to catch up on some yellsound history.  With Aussies,Japanese, Scots,  Americos  and anglos in the mix, and with the help of a hastily bought quitar, the   drinks from 6 to 8  became exactly that with some of the crew exceeding even that quantity mainly G and T or R and C.  Great relaxation and Great night - not so good next day tho.
With the delays on the canal, we had to rebook our flight back to New York- original intention was to be back in New York for stevie and sabrina running a half marathon in Central Park at the weekend- to the following week. Eventually, we were cleared for Canal transit on Sat  21st and off we went full of trepidation at the size of the locks and the regulations.-- each boat required four line handlers ( we rented four mooring lines of 125ft each and one line handler and  ten rubber tyres as fenders) and an advisor, a canal employee.  Boats over 60ft require a Pilot, whilst yachts under 60 ft manage with an advisor. We entered the Gatun locks about 4.30pm behind a cargo ship and two yachts rafted together. We were rafted with another yacht from Belgium and catamaran from Norway.  Gatun locks consist of three separate chambers which transport you up 85 meters from the Atlantic to the Gatun Lake through which most of the transit from Atlantic to Pacific is made. The actual passage was very underwhelming.- the transit through the Crinan canal is far more demanding on crews and yacht. The most impressive site in transiting is the turbulence created as the sluices are opened- the water enters from the side as opposed to the sluice gates on the crinan. Providing lines are tensioned ok, the yachts do not move appreciably and are well clear of the lock walls.
By 6pm, we were in the Gatun Lake making our way to a mooring buoy where we rafted up for the night to celebrate Mikes 38th birthday. I think the party ended circa 2am  to be awoken at 5.30am by the advisors coming to join us for the passage through the lake to the Pedro  Miquel (one chamber) and Miraflores locks( two chambers). We were asked to make 7 knots average speed to achieve our lock booking time, a fast pace for quartermoon with her wee volvo engine,  but with no other traffic in the canal awaiting transit, our slower pace did not delay our entry straight into the loch.   Going down was so much easier, no turbulence as water is exiting the lock and with no commercial ships in the lock, we seemed to be like toy boats. To think that 9 yachts transiting together of say 8 tons each only displaces 72 tons compared with a 100,000 ton container ship, so to get through the canal has to pump an additional 99,928 tons of water- no wonder they don't like yachts much.
Once through, we motored to the island of tobaco, 7 nm from Panama City in the Bay of Panama. Tobaco greeted us with a thunderstorm with the most torrential rain we have ever seen.Why is it it always happens when you are trying to Anchor?.  However, we were well spotted by the local harbourmaster and taken to a mooring for $8  per night, followed by buying two lobsters for $5 from a local canoe. Made great supper with champagne celebrating our arrival in the pacific and our last night on QM. Next day saw us ashore with Linda and Sam with Mike and Stuart in tow climb the hills on the island to visit the three crosses monument- a steep climb through the tropical rainforest.  best part  was the beers afterwards on the waters edge.  The afternoon saw a brisk sail back under foresail in 20knots of wind to Playita marina where we left QM to go ashore for our last supper with Mike and Sam.  A first class meal in the old part of Panama city- sitting outside in 25 degrees- a  very enjoyable end to our Panama visit           

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