13:44.06N 77:45.07W Three Preparations for Panama

Sun 28 Feb 2016 11:16

13:44.06N 77.45.07W Three Preps for Panama


We changed course to 207’ at 03.15am, started taking our daily anti malaria tablets and thirdly raised the yellow quarantine flag underneath the Panamanian courtesy flag on the starboard side flag halyard.


There seemed to be a gale in every squall but using only the genoa the reefing was quick and easy and we would still be getting 6 knots of speed. We were looking forward to getting to Panama and hopefully a drop in the incessant high winds that had prevailed 24/7 since the day of our arrival in Curacao, 17 days before.


A cloud moved over the silver sea pushing the moon’s reflection back towards the horizon until it was a mere sliver. Then as the cloud moves on the silver shining surface comes scampering back to us like a puppy dog that’s retrieved its ball.


In the half light of dawn on the 7th day I looked across the fore deck to see Father Christmas hunched up on deck. Where we had secured the bright orange storm sail with its white hem it looked just like his red coat with white fur trim! The mind plays wonderful tricks on you sometimes.


My favourite memory of this trip would be being t-shirted and wearing shorts in the warm moonlit cockpit, with glistening silver water on the moonside of us during the night. Rob’s is the dawn twilight just before the sun appears. My least favourite was the pongy fridge and Rob’s the stormy night. What we are most looking forward to is the whole Panama Canal transit process.


At 6.25am on day 7 “Land ahoy Barbs,”


“Just remind me to put some clothes on before we go in won’t you darling”. We passed through the outer anchorage counting 37 ships awaiting to be notified of their canal transit-  time by Cristobal Signal Station and noticed lots of black swallow-tailed butterflies with lime streaks on their wings flying through the rigging on their way to who knows where.


Rob called up Cristobal to ask for permission to enter the harbour through the narrow gap between the east and west rocky breakwaters. “Proceed keeping clear of traffic,” came the brief reply.


I untied the salt-stiffened fender lines on the stern and re-positioned them along with the mooring lines into their correct places then called up John, the marina manager, who said there would be someone to take our lines. We knew exactly where we were going since John had given us our berth number during our previous email exchanges, which helped immensely. But then we noticed we had to do a right angled turn into the gap between the pontoons and then another almost immediately into our finger berth and Zoonie would not like that. Also the bow thruster was not working presumably because it was covered with barnacles. Our marinero arrived in the knick of time and I threw those lines as hard as I could. He took two at once, bless him to control the front and back and pull us across the water to the finger arm.


As we walked to the office John came to greet us and helped us to start nibbling away at the vast amount of paperwork and officialdom we were facing to do with clearing in and passing through the Canal.

Then we arranged Zoonie’s lift out and pressure hose down for the Saturday, three days later. Then into the lovely cool dark bar for a cold glass of Panama beer. Phew were we ready for that.


The marina has been built in a mangrove swamp surrounded by thick, lush virgin rain forest, yep it really rains every day, so it IS a ‘rain forest’. Tall palm trees wave in the wind their new leaves like warriors spears shooting at the top. Tall grasses, or are they wild sugar canes (?) grow alongside the water. The site was once an American Air force base complete with run way but since they left the jungle has been gradually re-claiming its land. There are ruins of an old church not far away and some old derelict buildings that look as if there might have been a plantation here too.


In Zoonie’s cabin the temperature has risen to 38’ and the lightest physical activity for us results in wet hands and dripping chins. The mosquitoes come out in force in the evening so we hastily put nets over all the open windows and sundowners was replaced with a relaxing sundippers swim in the delightful raised pool beside the bar under the evening sky with black birds of prey circling overhead. Later that evening I emailed Alex of AYS  (Associated Yacht Services) who is our agent to tell him we had arrived so he could arrange to visit us.


During the night howler monkeys made their exotic, collective noise. They don’t like rain and object loudly when they sense there is some coming. A kind of early warning to get the washing in!


As usual our first day in port was a frenzy of chores. The shop surprised me as there was a very limited range on sale. No fresh veg or fruit, eggs, yoghurt or bread, instead shelves of wine and beer, nibbles, ice cream and bottled water. I know the marina is isolated from Colon and Panama but they still have vehicles and phones!


Friendly Josimar came from AYS and we shared the form filling task. He took away our passports to be stamped with a three month mariners visa and to prepare our Cruising Permit needed from now on in Panamanian waters.


We learned in the afternoon that the yard would lift Zoonie on Friday and ‘Splash’ her back in on Saturday, so although we could sleep on board we wouldn’t be able to use sinks or loos so we booked a luxury night in the marina hotel, and we couldn’t wait!


A New Zealand couple, Jane and Paul, agreed to be two of our line handlers as did Frederic and Simon from Quebec who are taking a year out from their medical studies. The boys came aboard for a chat and drink of water.


The next day, the 26th, Josimar returned with our passports and beamed widely as he asked for our thumb prints on yet another document. He wanted our choices on the options available for the crossing. Rafting up with two other yachts in the centre of the canal, an alongside tow with a small tug or side-walling against the concrete canal wall by ourselves(!?!) The measurer arrived and spent 30 minutes whizzing around with his steel tape measure, an hour or so form filling and asking questions while, at the same time on the phone to his lawyer. He then gave us a potted history of Panama and his view of the political situation, all the while we were thinking the yard is waiting for us and we have work to do on Zoonie, so please GO!


Zoonie has never before been scraped and power washed so thoroughly. Undoubtedly Rob’s brilliant scrub off in La Gomera made a huge difference. After they had finished the hull was perfectly clean and needed no more attention from us. Rob concentrated on the bow thruster which hasn’t worked for ages while I cleaned off the prop, shaft and skeg ready for some new, white anti-fouling we are going to try.


We finished what we had planned to do on day one, checked in to our room then headed for the pool where tropical birds were having a drink and an old timer lounged on his couch reading a paper-back. A quick shower then guess where we went!


There is a constant buzz in this marina and vessels coming and going all the time. It is all well organised and the many staff are all friendly and helpful. Questions frequently being asked are “So when are you crossing?”, “Did you do the San Blas?” and “Where’s next then?” Every one has interesting stories to tell and the pontoons become neighbourhoods of chatting sailors with tips and advice. There is a grave yard of old boats on the way in, foresails hanging in rags and rust stained hulls. There are a few ‘left’ yachts, some for quite some time but mostly its newcomers and those about to leave.


Before our hotel breakfast we put a second coat of anti-fouling on so it would be dry before splash down after lunch. We paid for 150lts of fuel ($85) at the office and once back in the water made our way to the fuel barge to moor alongside. Zoonie had to turn in a small area and unfortunately as she did so the wind caught her and we ended up pinned across the stern  of the barge having nudged her with the bow and bent the anchor. We finally secured along side at about 2.15pm and waited, along with a big motor boat (Jack’ssin) and people waiting to have their jerry cans filled. We waited, there was no-one on the barge to begin with. We waited some more and the heavens opened. Someone arrived to say the captain had been held up on the other side of the canal. So we waited, then just before 6.00pm the captain arrived and got things going.


The captain of Jack’ssin was chatting with the barge men and one of them took a liking to his shirt with ‘Captain’ embroidered on it. He asked if he could have it to which the smiling captain replied that if he and his mates were still on the fuel barge when he returned from San Blas in a week he would give each of them a shirt. The barge man said “and the captain, he can have one?”


“Hell no, he was late!” That eased the frustrated atmosphere with laughter!


Getting back onto the mooring was easy peasy as Frank was ready to take our lines and Rob had got the bow thruster working again.