After 7 wonderful months in Marvellous Melbourne I returned to ELIANA at Marina Carenero,Bocas del Tora, Panama in mid January and special thanks to Vicky Fenton for putting up with me for most of that time. All boats, new and old need work and maintenance, especially older steel boats, however, they have the strength that no other boat building material has. So I commenced on the page long list of "boat jobs" and kept adding more jobs to the list. I decided some time ago that if you wait until you finish the list you will never leave. In fact, some people do not. I've seen it all around the world. People get stuck on their boat in marinas,"on the hard", or at anchor. It's comfortable, to a degree, and the outside world or open sea can be a frightening prospect compared with what is known. Anyway, back to the boat jobs. I engaged a very competent local chap, Hiro, to scrub my bottom, boat that is, which revealed a lack of antifoul paint along the waterline so it was necessary to arrange to "haul out" as they say or "slip" the boat as we mostly say in Aus. This entailed going over to the local boat yard at Almirante a voyage of 11 miles. Russ and Shelley from our marina kindly offered to assist in taking Eliana over there. As they had volunteered to help me make the transit of the Panama Canal also this would provide an opportunity to get to know the boat, and their captain at sea ! The boat yard manager, a very pleasant Brazillian chap, Fabian, whom I knew when he managed our marina whilst the owner, Mary, went back home to her family farm in USA , ordered my antifoul paint which cost $265- USD a gallon and had to be paid for in advance. Unfortunately, he ordered the wrong type of paint which was incompatible with my ablative paint, basically due to a misunderstanding/lack of communication between the two of us.So,instead of this job being a quick, relatively inexpensive one it became a much bigger one requiring the bottom being sanded back to the old barrier coat, new epoxy barrier coats plus the antifoul, overall an expensive , laborious exercise.
Preparing for the Canal
What made life there tolerable was the air conditioner which I fitted prior to leaving for Aus.the previous year. This prevents mould and keeps the boat dry inside.Too dry, inspite of the timer I'd fitted. My Jarrah table tops had shrunk and fridge lids wouldn't fit.The power in Bocas goes off about every other day, sometimes twice a day which means my timer needs to be reset each time. Anyway, the AC was a welcome relief although the generator at Almirante was turned off at 7 pm week nights and from mid day Saturday until 7.30am Monday. The way to deal with this was to stay in a hotel in town on the weekend which was a brilliant idea. The chitre's or "no-seeums" in Almirante are dynamite and come down in squadrons at about 4.30 each afternoon. Bites can get infected as happened to a young backpacker who was working on a 40 year old steel junk which had sunk and the owner builder was trying to make it into a "silk purse" ! Are you with me ? The 70 ++ year old skipper kept advertising for paying crew who came with great hopes of sailing off into the sunset. Most became disillusioned and left after a few days. One of these was Cameron from Sydney who joined me at Bocas with a heavily pus infected chitre' bite which incapacitated him for 2 full days. After a penicillin shot in the bum a Vesuvius of pus erupted, fortunately while he was on the foredeck, after which he quickly recovered and was a great help to me painting the cockpit, refitting sails etc. My Genoa ( fore sail) needed a major re stitch which was done by an American lady who lives with her partner on a nearby island. Once back in Bocas preparations were in full swing to transit the Panama Canal and with a weather window available and again with Russ and Shelley as crew we headed off on the 141 mile journey directly East to the entrance of the canal and the marina at Shelter Bay. The trip was uneventful but entailed motor sailing due to light winds. Shelter Bay turned out to be extremely pleasant with a nice bar, restaurant, and swimming pool. It is filled with yachts from all over the world with people coming and going and some just staying! The canal agent, Roy Bravo came down and discussed details. Roy turned out to be a very nice fellow and capable agent. You need 4 line handlers for the canal so I engaged one through Roy, and a chap from Belgium on a catamaran opposite me came with us plus Russ and Shelley that made 4. On the day of departure Roy came down with massive fenders and 4 very long, one inch ropes plus Daniel our experienced line handler. At 1500 hours on "Sadie Hawkins Day" ( 'Lil'Abner') 29 February, we motored out of the marina and across to the "Flats" which is the waiting area where pilots or advisors join the boats before commencing the transit. Our first pilot was rather self important so I kept my mouth shut and followed his instructions. The first series of locks took us 23 meters up to Gatun Lake which was made for the construction of the canal and is a fresh water lake formed by an earth dam across the Chagres River. The canal is so heavily used that it is taxing the capacity of the lake as fresh water is washed out to sea as you go"uphill" to the lake. The locks are filled by the higher lake which then empties out into the Atlantic side once the gates are open . New locks are being built which will recycle the water with pumps.
Gatun locks at night were a great experience as was the whole transit although there's quite a bit of wait time. We were the solo yacht in a central position behind a ship. The line handlers on the lock throw a thin line with a "monkey fist" on the end down to the handlers on the yacht who attach the heavy mooring line to the monkey fist end which is then hauled up and the bowline on the end is dropped over stout bollards which secure the boat to the lock walls. The handlers on the boat then haul in the lines through cleats on the deck as the lock fills and the boat rises after the gates behind have been closed making the rear watertight. Our cockpit and saloon cushions were used to cover our solar panels which risked getting damaged by the monkey fists hurled through the air. As it turned out the guys throwing them were very good at their job We went up 3 locks and were then into the lovely Gatun Lake where we were directed in the dark to tie up to a large mooring buoy for the night. No sooner had we exited the last lock when our advisor said to poor Shelley " I want to eat and I want to eat now"! She had just finished hauling in her last,long , heavy line and was exhausted but she and Russ quickly came up with a stir fry which was partially prepared in advance. After eating,he left us at about 2000 hours when the pilot boat came and picked him up. Secure and relaxed we sat in the cockpit and I warbled some sea songs and had a couple of cool beers which were most welcome. During the night through my deep slumber I recall another boat tying up to the buoy. It was the Canadian yacht, " Terrywn " with Bill and Cathy on board. I was awake before 6 waiting for the next advisor who turned up at about 0930. The next advisor or pilot was another Roy who turned out to be a very pleasant fellow and less self important than our previous pilot. We motored 23 miles across Gatun Lake down Gaillard Cut to the next lock Pedro Miguel, where we were lowered 9.5 meters down to a small artificial lake which separates the last 2 , Miraflores Locks.Here we tied along side a day passenger ferry mostly filled with Americans although there was one backpacker girl from Sydney who spotted out Aussie courtesy flag. We were like goldfish in a bowl with a dozens of tourists gawking down at us asking questions and offering us beer and whisky which I reluctantly had to resist !
Through to the Pacific
Once safely tied up there was nothing more for me to do until the lock had emptied and we went down another level closer to the height of the Pacific Ocean ahead of us so I could relax and banter with the inquisitive tourists above and along side us. In the last lock we had much turbulence but were ok unlike another couple of boats who came through later. Tied together, they lost it and did a 180 degree turn inside the lock but luckily didn't slam into the side walls. After that we were spat out into the Pacific with Australia only 8500 plus miles away. Just before dark we motored down to the Balboa Yacht Club where we dropped anchor just inside the ship superhighway....the channel to the mighty Panama Canal. I stayed there for a week , Russ and Shelly helped me get diesel and whole day was spent provisioning then packing it away. Russ and Shelley had gone back to Bocas at this stage but I had been grateful for their help and company.
I joined "Puddle Jumpers" which is organised by a boating magazine "Latitude 38" and assists yachties crossing the Pacific. On Monday we had an info day at Balboa for the Puddle Jump. Reps from Tahiti and New Zealand gave us the run down on formalities etc and a showbag of info which is yet to be digested. Contact was made with an agent from Galapagos who is arranging an "autografo" or visitors permit for yachts. They are very strict on quarantine , the cleanliness of the boat below and above the water and so on.....they send divers down to check your bottom ! Today was spent checking out....won't go into details other than to say much depends upon who you get at Customs, Immigration and so on. Alright, after meeting a fire breathing dragon lady at immigration who wanted to see my "zarpe" or exit permit I went to the very friendly and helpful Port Captain who sorted me out after which a taxi was taken back to Balboa Yacht Club where there are friendly immigration officers who stamped my passport so I as then good to go.
Gulf of Panama
At 0930 on 10 March 2016 the anchor was hauled up and a course set for the Las Perlas Islands. There was no wind for the first few hours and some boats sail down at night with the evening breeze which seems to spring up. I like to sleep at night whenever possible and moreover,going into an unfamiliar anchorage at night is far more difficult than during daylight. Besides, I needed to make some fresh water with the desalinater which necessitates running the engine. I was hoping to conserve as much fuel as possible as the trip to Galapagos is likely to have light to no winds. So as I write we are slowly motoring South across the Gulf of Panama....until next time...
A busy Panama area. We are the red icon, green and yellow are ships as shown on the AIS. Cheers Captain Dave SV Eliana . Ps we have some wind and are sailing at 5+ knots..hooray, although I was able to use the desalinater and fill the tank with fresh water, shower and wash some clothes !!!!
Been there, bought the hat...
Genuine Panama hat, made in Eucador and shirt. Genuine parrot too ! Pss....arrived at Isla Contra Dora in Las Perlas late yesterday and was invited for dinner on the 60 foot catamaran Amarula. Saw an Orca whale, Dolphins and Eagle Rays. Must wind this up and try to send....Cheers. Finally...I hope.....plan to head down to Isla Del Ray tomorrow and leave for Gal. Monday noon-ish.......hope this sends....Cheers D.