Another Sweltering night in Paradise, Swelter Bay!
Sat 5 Mar 2016 16:54
28th February 2016 Canal Day –1. I couldn’t sleep so at 3.30am I got up and wrote the blog, there’s dedication for you. Later that morning we prepped Zoonie for the crossing, moving full sail bags from the forepeak and covering hatches and solar panels with them to protect them from the lead filled monkey fists on the ends of the heaving lines, that would be thrown to us by the linesmen.
We had to take off the liferaft from her stern and stow it on the foredeck. The tall Dan Buoy was stowed below and the outboard motor turned around, all so they would not get damaged.
Simon and Frederic came aboard for a brief at 4.00pm then we walked around the Kennedy Loop of the US Army base (Fort Sherman), that surrounds the marina and makes it very secure, with Carla and Rob from a Moody called Moody Missee. As we walked along a track towards the ammunition bunker we disturbed howler monkeys who made a terrific fuss until we started to move away again. At the gateway through the concrete walls into the bunker a sentry box stood and a wire-fenced pen with the dog kennel still inside for the guard dog.
Green parrots flew overhead and wood ants marched along their forest dual carriageway, carrying fragments of green leaves in one direction and returning for more in the other direction. We didn’t see the three toed sloth that resides near the disused church but the capuchins were curious about us from their safe vantage points in the tree tops.
In total we also found the military reserve offices, batteries, barracks, lookouts, and gunning placements and I believe the base closed about 17 years ago. The jungle is slowly creeping back over the buildings and is beautiful in its variety of plants and trees and its lushness. It is unkempt and the palm fronds and dead leaves lie scattered everywhere, in not so many years this lovely patch of virgin rainforest will make this corner of Latin America look virtually untouched except for the marina.
29th February Canal Day 2 and Time for our Panama Canal ‘Leap’ from Sea to Ocean. We had a final walk up a different grass track from the marina and saw bright orange Julia butterflies alighting on leaves around us. Smart black-bodied capuchin monkeys with golden heads and shoulders watched us from above and as we returned they followed us from their safe treetop corridors.
With Jane, Paul, Fred and Simon onboard and having said a grateful goodbye to John, the marina manager, We left the marina at 1.00pm and made our way to the ‘F’ Flats anchorage ready to receive our first advisor. We soon concluded that the times the Canal Authority gave us for the arrival of the advisors was actually the time they wanted us ready for them. William arrived four hours later than expected and the bulldog launch nuzzled gently towards us (contact could have been very damaging and we had been told to tell them to STOP if we thought they were too close).
Within minutes we were off to the upward Gatun locks. A lot of the final arrangements could not be made until we were virtually in the lock. Would we go alongside a tug, centre lock rafted to another yacht or two, or side wall with two lines up to the handlers on the lock wall. We did the former and what a friendly crew they were on the tug to our right. We only tied to her while we were stationary, as soon as the gates were opened the tug proceeded first and then we tied to her again in the next lock.
However, on our left hand side, Terrwyn tied alongside us for the duration of these locks. She is one year younger than Zoonie, also has a max prop with prop walk to port when in reverse. These facts will be significant later on!
The night time passage through the locks was magical. Golden light playing on the water showed the movement as the lock filled through 100, 4 foot diameter ducts in the bottom. The strain on the ropes as we moved with Terrwyn and the tug was not too bad as all three of us are substantially built. But then the dry bulk carrier Clementine, of London, started her engines to move forward into the next lock ahead of us and wow, that shifted the mass of water against us. We could hear her captain giving commands to the crew to adjust the lines that were connected to the eight mule trains which moved her along the locks. There was no more than a metre between her and the walls.
Once through the third lock we were entering the vast man-made 423 square kilometre Gatun Lake and within minutes had tied to a soft big ship mooring buoy with a belligerent French yacht on the other side. William called to the crew to take breast lines from us so we couldn’t swing and touch them but the skipper virtually told us to buzz off!
The launch collected William, again very gently without touching us and Jane and I set to preparing supper for 6. It was well past midnight, and after Paul had regaled us with numerous anecdotes, when we finally turned in. Fred and Simon in the saloon, Jane up forward and Paul in the cockpit.
He learned to tie the gutra, head scarf when in the UAE . He was bringing their boat Nora J through the Red Sea. To discourage pirates they had changed the boat’s name to an Arabic one, donned gutras and the white overall called a disha dasha so when the pirates did approach they just glowered at them until the pirates went away.
Regis, the spitting image of Sir Trevor Macdonald and smelling sublimely of one of my favourite perfumes, Monsoon, arrived just before nine the next morning (should have been 7.00 – 7.30 but hey ho) and we moved off across the lake that was jewelled with islands of tropical rain forest. All along there were transits, markers set one infront of another so that when lined up they showed the correct bearing for vessels to follow. There is no speed limit in the lake. We were approaching a container ship coming the other way. Fred was on the foredeck. Rob turned into the wash so we would not get rolled and Fred got wet. He didn’t mind as the water was cooling and fresh. So when Rob mentioned to these third year medical student lads from Quebec that the next ship would give an even bigger wash, both he and Simon were back up on the foredeck sharpish.
She was Heinz tomato soup coloured and was doing around 12 knots, she had also just rounded a bend which seemed to enhance the wash. Rob turned Zoonie bows on, she rose to the first wave but ploughed straight into the second as she fell down. The fore-deck and the two lads disappeared in a massive wave of water which powered along the side decks three inches deep. We thought, ‘hope they hung on and we closed the windows’. Fortunately both thoughts got affirmative replies and Fred and Simon emerged dripping from head to toe. Not sure which was funniest, their dunking or Paul’s laugh which seemed to continue for ages!
The lake is full of crocs, so no swimming then, and fishing is allowed during the day. It is all a nature reserve and well policed by rangers to prevent any harm to the land animals and plants. We passed along the Gaillard Cut which is carved through the rock and shale of the Continental Divide. In the photos it looks like a mayan pyramid and is called Gold Hill, partly because the vegetation on it turns golden in the dry season and partly because it is near the Chagres river along which Peruvian gold was transferred to ships in the Caribbean Sea. 20,000 men and women died in the building of the canal which was opened in 1914, the majority from yellow fever and malaria.
Just as we were approaching the San Miguel locks and Centenary Bridge the car transporter ahead of us moved sideways with the wind effect and the tugs had to haul her back into position for the lock entry. (See pic) Her deck is so high the line handlers have to row out in a dinghy underneath her bows to take the heaving lines to the canal wall, they must has some nerve, even though she was doing no more than 2 knots at the time.
We were lowered 29 metres in three locks before entering the Miraflores Lake. We motored on to the Miraflores locks, the gates of which are the tallest due to the Pacific Oceans extreme tidal variations. We could sense we were getting nearer to the big ocean and Panama and started to see skyscrapers over the remaining hills to the left. In the last of the daylight the gates started to open on the next stage of our adventure. As we entered the lock to tie up to the wall, with Terrwyn alongside, a four knot current and a blast of wind got between Zoonie’s stern and the wall. Rob and Bill on Terrwym both went into reverse, which because of the prop walk to port I previously mentioned cause us to instantly turn at right angles to the wall. So hastily we turned both of us right around, exited the lock the way we had come in towards the ship that was entering behind us, and tried again, this time successfully.
Heaving lines were thrown aboard and each yacht sent two of the long lines to the linesmen who then walked us along keeping us ‘central lock’ as its called. This is the only time we took on heaving lines as we had been secured to tugs before.
Regis guided us in the dark into the anchorage behind Isla Pericho and Isla Flamenco where we dropped the hook in thick mud and opened the bubbly and beer cans very soon afterwards!