|We arranged to meet David in the Rey supermarket in the
shopping centre in Colón. The bus from Panamá stopped there as did the
twice daily free shopping bus from Shelter Bay Marina. "I'll be the tall Canadian
in the yellow jacket" he told us. David had never been in South America
before and we were pretty sure that after the first ten minutes he wouldn't be
wearing that jacket, but he shouldn't be too hard to spot. And so it
proved - he was the very tall, very white, very dazed gringo standing in the
doorway carrying a yellow jacket and a couple of suitcases.
We weren't sure how we felt about having someone else on the
boat - it had been a v.long time, but David was easy to have around and also a
retired diesel mechanic. Well we wouldn't have wanted him to get bored
Finally though Kaitlyn arrived and we handed over David in
exchange for our watermaker.
||But before starting work on the watermaker our other reason
for being in Shelter Bay was that we'd agreed to be line handlers for our friends
Benno & Marlene on the catamaran Belena. By coincidence we were to go through
the canal rafted alongside Kaitlyn - small world.
Belena came alongside in Shelter Bay at lunchtime and picked
us up along with Jens & Daniela from Arwen who were to be the other line
handlers. Then off to F anchorage otherwise known as The Flats to await
our advisor. Ships transiting get a pilot, but small boats get an advisor.
We'd heard that the advisors are pilots in training, but our advisor told us
that's absolutely not true. All the pilots are fully qualified ships
captains with miles under their belt who, he assured us, earned a fortune.
Whereas advisors had day jobs with the canal authority and did this to earn some
extra cash. They were though still fully trained he was at pains to point
So full speed ahead to Gatun and I do mean full. The
schedule has us slotted in behind a cargo vessel and they won't wait. If
we miss our slot because we can't keep up the speed declared on our
application form, we'll have to wait to be rescheduled and pay for the
Gatun the first three locks that will lift us up 26
meters into the Gatun lake where we will spend the night and wait for a
new advisor in the morning. We're all a little tense. We've
read how to do this. We've also read about all the possible
disasters for small vessels - most of which boil down to incompetence
aboard the vessel in question. Please let me not be the one!
But in the event it goes very smoothly. We raft to Kaitlyn and
move slowly into the lock towards the stern of a very, very, big
|Monkeys fists are thrown to us from the lock wall -
they don't drop onto our solar panels and break them, or anything like
that (as we'd been warned could happen) because the guys throwing them
are professional who do this every day and probably all play baseball
for Panamanian major league teams at the weekend. The monkeys
fists drop at our feet. We attach our lines to them which are
pulled back to the bollards ashore and we're ready to go.
The gates close, the water pumps in, we start to rise.
"I want to see those lines tight all the time" shouts our advisor. And
that basically is our job. Keep the lines tight and the boat in the centre
of the chamber. It's quite hard work, especially on the way up when you
always pulling in and they're long heavy lines, but it's not rocket science.
Lock 1 done and the cargo ship is pulled forward by the mules
(see photo) - small
locomotives to which the ship is attached whilst in the locks, which act as
mobile bollards. We and Kaitlyn move forward still tied together and our
lines are walked along the wall to the next lock by humans. Same procedure
for lock 2, then 3. Then the ship ahead inches forward under her own
power. Her skipper does not throw her into 'full ahead' creating a
maelstrom of backwash driving the small boats behind him against the lock wall
(as has also been suggested), because just like the guys throwing the monkeys
fists, both he and his pilot are professionals who have done this loads of times
before. Then our lines are dropped, we recover them, untie from Kaitlyn
and motor off into the darkness to find our mooring buoy.
And what a buoy it is, not meant for the likes of us,
metres in diameter and very difficult to tie up to. We're on one side,
Kaitlyn on the other and the pilot boat comes alongside us to pick up the
advisors, meaning that Kaitlyn's advisor must cross the buoy to get to us.
Now, one of the obligations of small vessels transiting the canal is to feed the
advisor. Our guy's is not much interested, he has dinner waiting at home
and wants to get going, but Kaitlyn's advisor is a short rotund unmanoeuvrable
guy who looks like he has never missed a meal in his life. He's also keen
to get off, but doesn't want to miss a feeding opportunity. He opts for a
very large sandwich and he wriggles down onto the buoy. Now we have a
problem. The buoy is round and unstable, Belena's sides are attractively
curved and her deck is mid-chest level for the advisor who has his expensive
equipment bag in one hand and the sandwich in the other. There is no way
he is going to let go of the sandwich and he tries to lever himself aboard with
his elbows. It doesn't work. He rebounds and slides about like a
child in a bouncy castle except that in this case he's about to slide between
the boat and the buoy. If he dropped the sandwich he could save himself but he
only grips it harder. There are three of us standing on the buoy. We
can't believe what we're seeing so there's just a small delay before we throw
ourselves forward and manhandle him sideways through Belena's guardrails, where
he bounces upright and waddles off to the pilot boat, taking a large bite of his
sandwich as he goes.
||First thing in the morning we're on our way across the lake
with a new advisor. What a wonderful cruising ground this must have been,
small wooded islands, bays and creeks, but sadly stopping in the lake other than
as we had just done has been prohibited for a number of years. One day
Six hours later the down trip through the
Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks is a mirror image of the up trip
except that we pay out line as we go down rather than pulling it in, which is
much easier. And of course now we are "experienced" line handlers. We
also go down, just the two rafted yachts, alone. No ship. There are less
ships than usual - a feature of the global recession and also it's the rainy
season so there's plenty of water and they don't mind wasting a bit on us.
Then we're out of the last lock and the heavens open. We can't see the end
of the boat. It's almost as if the lake is being refilled with the water
we used in our transit. But it's soon over, the advisors are gone and we're
looking for an anchorage. This is the Pacific!
Back in Shelter Bay we say
goodbye to Balvenie who are off to NZ for 2 months. Then we get to work on the watermaker
which takes about a week followed by some long delayed repairs to the leaking
fridge. We also take the opportunity to ship in some stuff from the US,
including an engine-driven bilge pump, "suggested" in our last survey and now
required to make our insurers happy. A fortune to buy. Another fortune to
ship, A nightmare to install. And probably will never be used, hope not.
While this is going on Lindy takes the opportunity to get some
dental work finished, but more importantly makes an appointment to see an
Ophthalmologist because of some deterioration in her vision. He's in
Panamá, so we hire a car for a few days and book a hotel. There's always
serious shopping to be done in Panamá! It takes the doctor only a few
minutes to diagnose a large fast growing cataract - not an age related one he points out - but best dealt with asap. Asap turns out to be
tomorrow, so we extend the hotel and car booking and the following morning Barry
sitting in the clinic waiting room watching Lindy's cataract being removed on
one of the half a dozen large screen TVs that line the wall.
In the end our week in Shelter Bay turned into eight.
Being in a marina connected to electricity and water and being able to just step
ashore is kind of addictive even if the marina in question is Shelter Bay.
Not that there's all that much wrong with Shelter Bay. It's a safe, clean,
well run marina. It apparently used to have a terrible reputation for being
very cruiser unfriendly. Well we couldn't describe it as friendly, but not
unfriendly either. Kind of neutral. The yard is under external management
now and we heard some horror stories, but had no experience ourselves. The
marina's main problem is that it's in the middle of nowhere, 20
miles from Colón, and Colón is really not much of a place. Also that 20
miles includes crossing the first Gatun lock and if that's open it can add a
delay of up to an hour. The marina does provide a bus twice a day, but it
can be a bit of a grind.
If we needed a little additional push to get us out of there,
the water main was cut and took over a week to repair. That was our excuse
to fire up the new watermaker and once our tanks were full of non-chlorinated
water there was no good reason to remain! But as a final piece of
icing on the cake, just as we were ready to leave, we decided to stay one more
day to go to the pool that we hadn't had time to use all the time we'd been
there. So swimmers on, towels in hand, off we go and what do we find - the
pool sealed off with yellow tape and closed because it's now the water supply of
||We cast off from Shelter Bay at the beginning of September and headed back towards the San
Blas (we'd heard the lightning had reduced a lot). First port of call was
Portobelo again for a short stop! So what
happened? We'd just spent a couple of months in the marina fixing things.
Surely there was nothing left to go wrong? Wrong! It started when we put
dinghy in the water and find the outboard has seized. What's that about?
It's only been out of action for two months. Perhaps it doesn't like being
in a damp environment? It's an outboard motor for god's sake! So that
took a good day to fix.
Then the pump that empties our holding tank (for those not in the know, that's
where we store poo if we can't pump it out) sprung into independent life in the
middle of the evening and wouldn't stop. A weird electrical fault which took
Then the generator blew an exhaust gasket, filling the boat with smoke and crap.
Two days for that one - included a 3 hour round trip on the most crowded and
noisiest bus in the world to find a shop with gasket material.
Then the hydraulic steering sprung a leak. 4
hour round trip on same bus back to Colón to find hydraulic fittings.
Then second 4 hour trip to buy the correct hydraulic fittings. Then
strip steering and bend new pipes to find that the originals must have
been installed before the engine went in so it's impossible to fit my
shiny new ones. So back on the bus to buy much more expensive
|Also try to source a couple of litres of
hydraulic fluid. Eventually find the one place that sells it - to be told that
it's only available in Panamá in 5 gallon containers. So have to recover
and filter the old fluid instead which adds another half day to the job.
And whilst in Colón trying to sort this stuff out, the
soles of Barry's shoes fell off so that he had to walk around looking like Charlie
Chaplin - which does make it quite hard to be taken seriously by the locals.
Probably something to do with the rain. Did we mention that it rains every
day? And I mean a lot - we've got half our hatches taped up to try and stop the
leaks and everything is going mouldy. A week later one of the water tanks
started leaking on the weld previously repaired and the aft toilet pump
developed a leak. Oh, and in the middle of this we had the most horrendous
lightning storm that went on for hours.
After a month in Portobelo we decided to get back on the bus
to see a Dermatologist for a skin check - Lindy thought it was a good idea!
Making an appointment is not possible - the idea being to get to the hospital 3
hours before the clinic starts, find the piece of paper on the 2nd floor
reception desk and put your name down. How civilised! We were 10 &
11 on the list which only meant waiting an hour after the doctor arrived.
She decided that we both had 2 moles that needed biopsy so out comes the
anaesthetic and the scalpel. After a week we are informed a visit to
Panama City is indicated for cryotherapy - seems the journey to Colon with a
flask of liquid nitrogen is hazardous - so we get back on the bus.......
Re-reading the above, I'm slightly amazed it was
|We leave Portobelo to hop up the coast
towards Porvenir - the western point of entry for Guna Yala.
First Isla Grande, then Green Turtle bay. It's early morning and
we're getting ready to leave the super rolly Green Turtle anchorage.
I'm walking forward in the saloon, doing something nautical. One of
the ring pulls which lifts our floor panels has been left slightly
proud. I manage to thread my toe through it (this requires accuracy
that even Jockey Wilson would be pushed to manage) and continue walking,
but now with 3 square feet of floor panel attached to my toe. Bronze
ring pull very badly bent, but toe amazingly not broken.
Repair ring pull, put on shoes(!) and off we sail for Porvenir. About
ten miles before we arrive we hook the biggest Barracuda in the
universe. Nearly an hour later we have it alongside the boat. Or
we're alongside it. Did I mention it was big? Just as the two of
us are trying to heave it on board the line snaps. The 80lb
line! So we lost fish, hook, lure, the lot! It was as Barry fell
backwards that his shoe fell off into the sea!!
These are the best, and absolutely the only Croc type shoes ever owned
that are actually comfortable. I love them with all my heart. So we
immediately go into full RYA man overboard mode in an attempt to recover
it. I bet you can guess how that went. We're sure the bastard
barracuda ate it!