Oyster 56; Amanzi; Sailing from Shelter Bay through the Panama Canal into the Pacific January – Februari 2023

Sunday, January 29th, the Panama Canal

At 2pm we had to go to the anchorage area to wait for our advisor. That took another 2.5 hours…. Why this planning was not clear to anyone but anyway, around 6pm we motored, in the dark, into the first lock, the Gatun lock.

Just before entering the lock, we made a raft of three boats. Amanzi on bb of Far and Mistral on sb. In 3 stages we went up 27m. I was on the bow. That meant I was thrown a monkeyfist I had to tie to the loop of the 40m line we had been given. Together with Clare, I would operate this line. Michiel and Fleur from Pippin who would help us as line handlers managed the sternline. Mistral was given the lines from the others.

Then we went in as the first nest all the way to the gates on the other side of the lock. There the long lines were thrown around the bollards and we had to park our nest neatly in the middle of the lock. Three more nests followed behind us. When all 12 boats were properly moored, the doors closed and the water soon came. In less than 5 minutes, we were up the first 9m. This process repeated itself two times and then we were able to sail onto Gatun Lake.

There, the search for the mooring buoy began. The locks were well lit, if not on the lake. Except for the lights of lots of buoys and ships at anchor. Fortunately, our advisor knew exactly where we needed to go. Once there, four boats had to tie up on one buoy. Which, by the way, was a huge buoy you could just stand on. Far and us went on either side of the buoy. Mistral came alongside us and Renegade came alongside Far.

Meanwhile, it was 9pm. Soon after all 12 boats were moored that way at 3 buoys, a pilot boat came to pick up all the advisors from all the boats. The next morning around 8am they would come back on board.

The night was a little bit unsettled. Around 3am we were woken up by Phil from Far. Our boats had shifted slightly from the buoy between us due to the wind and waves from passing boats, our both bows were touching. After some maneuvering and lashing, we were well again.

The next morning, all advisors were dropped off again only less than half an hour later than agreed. We untied all the boats and motored in convoy, first across the lake and then through the canal to the Pedro Miguel and Mira Flores locks.

It was an impressive trip that took just under five hours. Via the main channel you sail straight through the jungle. On the map I had also seen another channel, the Banana channel. That one is much narrower and I had thought we would take that route. I had read stories about it where crocodiles swam around the boat, parrots flew overhead and monkeys could be seen and especially heard.  However, that canal had not been maintained for years and thus was not used for transits anymore. Only small boats still used that route. We sailed up with the huge ocean giants that passed us at sometimes mere 10 metres.

Monday, January 30st, La Playita marina

It was about 4pm when we tied up in the marina. This would be the last marina we would come to until Australia. From now on, our anchor and dinghy was the only way to get ashore. We could stay here until Thursday. Then we had to anchor to make room for the 2nd group of the fleet. There was no room in the marina for the whole fleet.

Almost all Tuesday, Marc and I were busy installing new battery banks. We had two, a series of four 6V 210Ah and a series of two 12V 98Ah. Originally there were eight of 6V given the layout.

Lately, we had to run the generator for 1.5 hours every 3 hours at night. That was pretty frequent. The batteries were from 2015 and therefore end of life.

We should have thought of that much earlier because there were no 6V batteries to be had in all of Panama. After much back and forth, we ended up with six 12V 100Ah batteries. Well, better than nothing. It was a bit of a chore but eventually everything was neatly in place and installed.

Tomorrow Pim, Marc’s oldest son, would arrive to spend some time with Marc and Clare. His daughter and youngest son had come over to St. Lucia in December. So now it was his turn.

He didn’t came empty handed. Actually it was also sort of planned he’d come over to Panama and bring the starlink device Marc had ordered. A number of boats in Santa Marta had starlink and they alle were extremely pleased with it. When Marc tried to order one he learned that it couldn’t be delivered in Panama since that part of the world was not yet formally covered. So he had it sent to Pim who was more than happy to deliver it in person.

Wednesday, February 1st, the Panama Canal in the rebound

The second group was now going through the canal and I returned the favor to Pippin. In the morning at 9am,  a van took me and 5 others who would be helping on other boats back to Shelter Bay. A ride of about 1.5 hours. It was a special ride, a highway right through the jungle.  Now the change in vegetation was even more apparent. From the tropical mountain forest in the south to the tropical rainforest in the north.

The journey through the canal was a bit the same but still different. We now passed the Gatun locks in daylight. With Amanzi we were the very first boat, with Pippin the very last. Especially in the lock, this gave a completely different perspective. It was a bit like watching a film for the second time or reading a book fot the second time. You see completely different things and also more it seems. The first time it’s actually too much to take it all in, the second time you have more  time to experience it. I was very happy to do it a second time.

When we arrived back in La Playita on Thursday, we saw Marc had anchored just off the marina and Michiel was able to drop me off easily. Initially, the plan was to sail on to Las Perlas on Friday but when I was back on board, Marc told me we would leave on Saturday. That would give me at least one day to see some of Panama City too. Marc, Clare and Pim had already arranged provisioning in my absence so we had plenty of time to visit the old town and buy some last things in the multi plaza mall, a kind of mall of the Netherlands but times three.

The old town was definitely worth a visit. It is a reasonably well-maintained part of the city, very clean too. Of course, we didn’t leave without getting some nice souvenirs. A T-shirt for me, a mask made by the Indians and a Panama hat for Marischka. We ended the visit at a rooftop party where lots of other ARC boats also agreed to meet. In short, it was a short but very nice visit to Panama city.

Saturday, February 4th , Into the pacific. Isla Contadora, Las Perlas islands 

We left an hour later than planned, the Friday night party had ran a bit late. Anyway, it’s only 35Nm, a 6 hour sail.

Clare, meanwhile, had managed to book a flight back to Panama City for Pim. That took some research. Contadora does have an airport but it is very small. So is the plane. Pim’s plane was a Chesna that could take two passengers.

We sailed away with very little wind and went no faster than 3kts. At that speed it would be 12 hours of sailing, so we turned on the engine. Fortunately, the wind picked up very quickly and we were able to kill the engine in just under an hour.

It was a very nice bit of sailing. It had been two weeks ago by now. Even with one reef in the mainsail, we arrived 5 hours later. It turned out we were the only ones. All other boats had sailed one island further, to Isla Chapera. That was the island where ‘survival’ was largely recorded. Well, I didn’t mind a day’s rest and neither did the rest. We were just fine here. The other boats would come back here on Sunday or Monday for the prize-giving ceremony of leg 2 and the bbq.

The plan is to take the dinghy to Chapera. It is only 2Nm away.

Wednesday, Feb 8th; position 08:10.313N 79:20.203W

Gulf of Panama. We are now on our way to the Galapagos.

The trip by dinghy to Chapera was fun. Outbound went real fine with the waves and tide with us. The ride back was a different story. Fortunately, the dinghy can take a beating because it was quite a bouncy ride. The island itself was beautiful, at least the coastline. There were no paths to get onto the island. Without a machete and on flip-flops, we also made no attempt.

Last Monday, we first took Pim to the airport. Well,… airport… it was a runway. There was a sign from which you could tell that you were actually in the right place. There were also 2 benches which apparently served as a waiting area.

There was one small plane but that was not Pim’s flight. It landed half an hour later. Two pilots stepped out. Who is flying with them? Was the question. Pim and Laura’s luggage was then loaded and then they were allowed to board. With the 2 pilots, the plane was full. A quick wave, back to the beginning of the runway and away they were. We were able to film everything, standing on the runway….

In the evening, there was a bbq on the beach. With the prize-giving ceremony of the leg to the San Blas islands. The bbq was very successful with fish, chicken, prawns, rice, yuca and lettuce.

We had done our best to slow down the boat so that we would arrive in daylight so no prize for us this time.

Tuesday was the skipper’s briefing on the next leg, 850Nm to San Cristobal, Galapagos.

Poohhh… what a lot of regulations and fuss to be allowed to get in there. About 10 men/women would board us to check all sorts of things and you have to pay about 7 different fees… it better be fantastic. We expect to arrive there in about 5 days.