Fwd: Panama Canal

Boundless 1
Richard Clennett
Mon 4 Apr 2011 11:35
8.55.28 N    79.31.83    W

Barb and John joined us in Shelter Bay on Friday March 25th (in the middle of my  much needed haircut by Elaine) and soon fell into the life of planning, boat jobs, socialising and more importantly, punctuating the days with time at the pool to keep cool and meet up with people. Barb and I caught the marina bus into Colon and did another big provision, John and Richard stowed the gallons of gin, rum, beer, wine and
soft drinks and continued to work through the list of things to be done. When Barbie and I were walking in the marina compound looking for sloths, jaguars and howler monkeys (unsuccessfully, although we often heard the monkeys) we came across a Russian film crew filming at the old Fort Sherman battery, several of the male hero's later joined Barb and John in the pool in their underpants!

Richard transited the Canal on "Catacaos" with Graham and Lorraine and Luca
as a line handler and returned feeling confident about the transit process,
having had a good time in the process.

Erick, the agent visited often and we continued to harass him about moving
us forward from our transit date of April 2nd .On wednesday March 30th, he
arrived to tell us we could transit the following day, but  he had no tyres
(used as fenders) for us as all his were allocated, however he would provide
the required lines. After some discussion, we decided to accept the risk of not having tyres, as even if we were to be rafted with other boats, they would have tyres, and we also have a good set of  fenders of our own. Suddenly the rush was on!

Panama is a beurocratic nightmare in that each port (yes...port) entered has
to be cleared into and out of and a cruising permit is also
required! Clearing in AND out requires copies of boat papers, crew list,
passports, cruising permit, "Zarpe" or clearance from last country/port and
then a lengthy document with five duplicates is completed by hand by the
Port Captain and signed by Richard and the fees are collected! Immigration is
usually done by another person elsewhere with more fees, so you can imagine
the time this all takes! Add  to this the whole process for Canal transit
which includes the "Admeasurer" coming aboard and taking every conceivable
boat measurement (and waiting and watching while we moved the "prodder" on
the bow to the vertical position so we could be classified as 50 feet LOA), and
then paying all those fees and those of the agent to facilitate all of this.
I think our Panama file has about 50 pages in it!

We departed the marina on thursday at 1pm to anchor and await the delivery by the pilot boat of our Advisor/Pilot at 4pm. This turned into 5pm and then we were on our way. On board for the transit, so that we would have 4 line handlers, we also had friends - Terry and Elaine from Byron Bay, whom we had met last year in Grenada.As it happened we were to transit up the locks on our own which was great, we all had a chance to be line handler and Roy the Advisor was impressed with our work and that of the skipper. We arrived in Gatun Lake to tie up at the mooring bouy at 8pm and after Roy departed sat down to dinner. All up again at 6am the following morning for the next advisor to be dropped off and to make our way through the Lake via the Banana Channel (short cut) and then on through the various cuts to Pedro Miguel Locks and Miraflores Locks - where we tied alongside a Canal training vessel which was tied to the side wall (meaning we didn't have to do anything at all) to lock down and then through Balboa Harbour, under the Bridge of the Americas and after dropping our lines and Terry and Elaine off at the Balboa Yacht Club, out into the Pacific to anchor off Las Brisas de Armador.

A celebratory meal ashore at a nearby restaurant on Friday night where we enjoyed beautiful ceviche and fish meals and latin music characterised by a very enthusiastic bongo player! A day yesterday of clearing in and out - including a relax for Barbie and some TV with the Immigration Officer in his box like office- in his recliner chair no less (guarding our passports), while Richard and I went next door to do some MORE photocopying.
After some compulsory retail therapy for Barbie and I, we picked up some more fresh
fruit and veg and then back to the boat. A funny night ashore followed  -
pizza and a few beers and then into the "Diamond" strip club for a drink! We'd seen the beautiful young glamorous  European girls entering, so after a chat with the doorman in we went - it was only 9pm (cruisers midnight they say!) so we had our own personal show of pole dancing and more....sitting there laughing - in our shorts, with 6 panama hats between us, one leftover  pizza and 2 computers! To top it all off, we were joined on our return dinghy trip to the boat by a large flying fish which caused some further hilarity! The things you do!

After refuelling this morning , and cleaning all the black "soot" off the boat
(again) we departed Panama for Las Perlas islands for a night or two before
heading for Galapagos. Weather forcasts suggest we may be driving there
rather than sailing, although we are having a great sail in 20kts of
NW as I write, making 7 knots and with 3 tuna on board.........




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