Monohull? We Transit the Canal as Crew

Well, its been a long time since we maneuvered in a monohull, and we casually offered our expertise to a fellow cruiser during a grocery run one day to help him with a Panama Canal Transit from Colon to Panama City. Besides the fact that we would do anything to get out of the marina for a day, Transiting the Canal is like a rite of passage for most Sailors.

John is on a solo circumnavigation on a Hylas 54 named ¾ Time. Its named after a Jimmy Buffet song, if your not familiar.

We recruited our friends Steph and Stu, and off we went for our overnight adventure to the “other side”.

Steph and Stewart of Matador

It’s a two day episode, crossing the canal in a sailboat. They give you a distinct passage-time, which,… of course, is adhered to strictly… strictly in Caribbean time of course. We motored around “the Flats” area of the canal zone waiting for the Pilot. This is when we found out there was no Beer on board!
NO BEER !!!

Darrens a happy guy, on a boat… and this is when Stewart realized there was no beer.

Our Pilot finally arrive at about 5:30 pm, when his proposed boarding time to our vessel was 3pm. All boats must have a designated “pilot” aboard who is arranged by the Panama Canal Harbor Authority. We actually had two,.. one for the evening passage, and one for the second day.

Our First Pilot giving Instruction to the Skipper
Night in the Canal.

We made it thru the first set of locks in the dark, all by ourselves, as opposed to being tied to another vessel. The Gatun Locks ( on the Caribbean side of the Canal) consist of three locks taking you from the Ocean into Lake Gatun.Once you have entered into the lock, the gates shut and water starts to fill (or empty depending on your direction) taking you the the height of the next lock. In multiple stages, you move your boat higher and higher ( or lower and lower) until the final lock where you will be at the level of the lake ( or sea).

GPS image of Gatun side of Panama Canal
Gatun Locks

Once there you spend the night on a mooring where the first pilot gets off and the next one joins you the next morning. We finally got time to eat dinner… Fried chicken tonight!
Beer..??? Not so lucky.

Most people believe that when going from the Caribbean to the Pacific Oceans, you travel from East to West, but in actuality, it’s a North to South voyage with a slightly easterly direction as seen in the image below.

Panama_Canal_Map

Morning came and our Pilot arrival time was 0730 and he was promptly on time again… Caribbean time, that is, at 1030. And off we motored thru the jungle lake toward the Pacific, all the while searching for Crocs.

Detaching from the mooring in the morning.
Searching for Crocs

Lunch on board was fried Chicken,.. or pizza, and soda… or water. Nothing gourmet of course, as it is a “guy” boat having just John the owner on board and his friend who was to help him get to their first stop, Hawaii.
Did I mention beer..??? probably not…

Skipper John and his friend

We carried on, motoring thru the canal, at about 6 – 7 knots, passing the prison which hosts Manuel Noriega News Article on Noriega being released from Jail

The Prison which houses Manuel Noriega

Snacks onboard was fried chicken. Or Pizza.
Without Beer.

You might be noticing a pattern.

Reaching Pedro Miguel Locks was like a turning point. For one, you can SEE the Pacific Ocean, and you realize you are almost there. As well, there seems to be a lot more boat traffic.

Much traffic on the Canal
more freighter traffic

Freighter traffic

Thru the Pedro Miguel Locks and the Miraflores locks, we were assigned to hook up to a charter cruise passanger boat. We were so relieved, for one, we don’t have to worry about lines up to the canal walls, and second,… THEY HAD BEER!

We were the entertainment for the boat that had the beer! The were sure curious about us.

Stewart was happy again, and he promptly purchased some from the concession. Life WOULD go on.

With Beer in hand. Smiles all around.

We were followed thru the Miraflores locks by a car carrier who made us seem almost miniscule in comparison to their enormity. Watching them bear down on you into the small space of the locks is quite a sight.

Pedro Miguel Locks

Looking South towards the Pacific.

When the doors open at Miraflores locks for the final time, a cheer was given all around as the Pacific water surrounded us. We celebrated with our purchased beer!

Canal Locks Doors are massive sized

We motored over to the Balboa Yacht Club, where ¾ Time would stay for a few days before heading towards Mexico and Hawaii on their circumnavigation.

John Being Happy to be in the Pacific

Our Pilot got off just before we moored down at the club and we headed up to the Club for a Beer!

Canal Pilot

Our Taxi Rogelio was there waiting for us shortly after our arrival, and we finished our beer and headed off with him again, back to our “homes” at Shelter Bay, but not without a stop at the Tienda….. for…

you guessed it…. beer….

HOME???

Well Plan A and Plan B, turn into Plan X, Y and Z.
It been an emotional rollercoaster of a ride on FMD in Panama in the last few weeks. Read on and you will see why.

Its been nice having Colin back on board, and Colin and Darren are constantly doing things to get the boat ready. We left San Blas and headed back to mainland Panama to Linton Bay where we could find some parts, and provisions.

Hurricane Otto

Sitting in Linton Bay, we got word of a late season tropical storm brewing in the South-western Caribbean. It became a named storm two days later, and we made the decision to run over to Shelter Bay Marina a week earlier than planned, and tie up to the dock. Plan C.

Boats in Portobelo after Otto

It was a good decision. We felt the effects of Hurricane Otto when the TS was renamed and the center was just 79 miles north of us. Secondary lines were tied and everyone in the marina secured all extra gear on deck. Portobello, where Darren and I have spent some time in the last 5 months was hit hard.

Not many boats survived the hurricane

Being open to the west, it had much swell, wind, and storm surge. 19 boats dragged onto the mud flats, 4 boats sunk and the remainder of them had to re-anchor many times, some of them in winds up to 60 knots. Linton Bay, where we had just left a week before, was apparently shuffleboard of boats dragging anchor. Many boat in Linton are unattended, so it would have been a nightmare to be there. Good seamanship and prudence conquers again.
The rain was abundant and flooded the Fort

Being At Shelter Bay was a good decision indeed and we got to meet up with friends Stuart and Stephanie from Yacht Matador, among others. If you remember a few months back, Matador was struck with lightning and they are still here at the marina fixing their wiring and replacing equipment. It is a huge job.

Steph and Stu Entertaining the cruisers

The Shelter Bay staff is polite, the services are good, the beer is cheap, and the grounds are clean. A bus goes into town everyday to take the cruisers shopping, there are BBQ’s, potlucks, and movies nightly and many friendly people. It was a nice place to weather the storm, and be under cover from the torrential rains.

Activities like Aquafit keep everyone busy

Shelter Bay Marina is a lovely place situated on the across the Canal from the town of Colon on the Caribbean side of Panama. Historically, its been built on the grounds of the previous Fort Sherman, which was occupied by the US military in all its capacities, Navy, Army and Air Force.

Remains of Fort Sherman base

After US troops pulled out of Panama in 1999, the jungle again took over its natural habitat and reclaimed its land. There are many old buildings, barracks, and battery’s. A walk thru the jungle presents monkeys, sloths, birds off many kinds.

Jungle takes over everything

We spotted a small flock of Toucans during our walk one morning after the rain.

A flock of toucans Darren had been waiting to see these.

And a family of monkeys just hanging around.

Monkeys in the trees was a regular sight

Colin had made contact with some potential buyers of FMD and they were coming down for a sea trial.
After not getting much response from the new potential owners about them wanting crew ( Darren and I) to stay on for a bit, we decided it was time to go home. The renter had moved out of the house and it just seemed time. We did not really want to head back to Parksville in December, the day after the SNOW, but as much as we looked for reasons to stay, we reluctantly booked tickets home for a Friday in early December. I guess our journey is coming to an end. Plans F, G and H ….

Porvenir

The new potential owners arrived on Nov 26 and were coming down from Canada. Coincidently, the new owners were from…. Get this…. NANAIMO!- which is about 30 km’s from where we live. They spent 3 days onboard, we took them for a test sail, enjoyed company, got to know them, and after we thought it was a done deal, they announced on Monday morning that they would not like to take the boat, it was too big for them, and they left.
Of course Colin was devastated.
We were shocked.
They did not give any sort of clue that may have been the case. ….
We had tickets home. …we had cried…. We had called our Adventure over…. Gosh. We were all in a bit of shock. So Plan K,L?

Since Colin has no option of staying due to his continued medical treatment, Darren and I decided to stay onboard for the time, and see what happens in the next few months. Plan X. Just only a few days later, it was again time to say “see ya later” to Colin, a second time. This time was teary, but not nearly as bad as the last time when we took him to the airport in Colombia when he was so ill.
Colin packed up a ton of his belongings off FMD and said goodbye to his girl, as he left Panama. This is the end of his journey on FMD. We cried.

So here we sit in Shelter Bay Marina, waiting on some information on new potential buyers coming down to take a look at FMD. We have exhausted the alphabet.