With only 2 days to go until our transit we met with Andy WCC to discuss who and how we will be going through the canal. We were to be rafted with Wiki a 44ft catamaran and young man called Matt had come back to Shelter Bay with team WCC to assist the final 4 yachts transit. He is currently on a catamaran called Cayuse and they were to wait in La Playita marina for his return. Matt stayed with us from Thursday until we reach Panama City on 4th Feb. This meant a quick clean and empty of the forward cabin and trip to the supermarket as we needed supplies for not only us and Matt but for our transit advisor. On the day before the transit the Panama Arc group took a taxi to Fort Lorenzo where we walked around a fort that had been built 4 times over the centuries due to the British attacks and destruction. On the way home we were lucky to spot and photograph howling monkeys and a sloth resting high in a tree.
Transit start date Saturday 3rd Feb arrived and after a brief demonstration on rope handling techniques we were told that we are now rafting as a pair with Orion a 47ft monohull. We met with Jane and Greg and discussed best side for rafting. It was then a matter of waiting for a call from rally control before being allowed to proceed to our waiting area called ‘flats’ just to the side of the canal. It was here on the flats that we received our Advisor for day 1 Oscar. He was a nice helpful gent, who was a maritime health and safety officer in his day job. Advisors are people who have transited the canal many times, have completed training and maintain their experience with minimum of 4 transits a year.
We were told we were now raft as 3 with Exocet Strike in the middle and we were to have 2 tugs going in with us. The actual lock transit went smoothly with Matt and a young man called Jacob f(from yacht Shepherd Moon)’who was assisting Exocet Strike acting as rope handlers.
Over night we tied up in Gatum lake to a large bouy, alongside Orion and Exocet Strike. We all enjoyed a beer and wine and congratulated ourselves with a good first day. Little did we know that tomorrow would be all change again.
Sunday the 4th arrive and we were up at 6am ready to receive our new advisor at 7am. The advisors finally arrived at 8:30 and we had a different gent call Evion. We must provide food water and shelter and he informed me that he can eat lots but not rice, pasta, potato bread etc, this was going to make feeding him a challenge. We were also informed that we were to be tied along side Orion who would be tied alongside a small passenger ferry who would be tied along side the lock wall and a large cargo ship named Oriental Angel will be joining us in the locks.
With this in mind and a late lock space we waited at the buoy for another hour which gave me time to prepare sausages, scrambled egg and tomato for the advisor. We set off towards the Pedro Miguel Lock approx 25miles and we were to go through at 16:30 so we were in no hurry. The scenery along the canal was beautiful lots of bird but no crocodile were spotted. Occasionally the view was obliterated by a cargo ship pass us by our small fleet of just 5 yachts. our group had to stop and wait for a large ship carring LPG, Gas
This is a priority ship and all vessels gave way to her. Eventually we reached Pedro Miguel lock but the lock wasn’t ready for us so we motored in circles for approx. 1 hour avoiding other ships and tugs. Eventually the lock was ready and we had to overtake the Oriental Angel to tie along side Orion who was to tie alongside a party catamaran. The rafting up went well with no problem then behind us being towed in with small trains was the enormous Oriental Angel she was so wide, 32m she just fitted in the Lock with a length of 200m and tonnage 35246. This lock was the first of 3 locks that would take us down from our highest point of 85ft above sea level. After approx. 20mins the lock gates opened and we separated from our raft and motored 1 mile to the Miraflora locks. Once again we joined Orion and party boat in a raft and the Oriental Angel squeezed in behind. The final lock was immediately after this one so we had to reverse to the bow of the Angel while and hold station while the party boat and Orion moved forward and re-rafted. The Angel was also on the move and the force of this boat moving and the conflicting instructions from 2 advisors meant we were briefly across the stern of Orion. There was only a minor scratch to KS but it did make our final lock slightly anxious. After 20 mins the gates opened and KS was back at sea level and entering the Pacific passing under the iconic Bridge of Americas. Our advisor was now in a hurry so we motored at full speed toward Playita marina. Unfortunately the advisors launch that was to collect him was not available and once again we had to hold station for 1 hour in the dark awaiting their departure. We eventually arrived in Playita marina at 20:00 feeling pretty exhausted but happy as we had just crossed another challenge and were now berth in pacific waters.
We were met by world Arc Galan who gave us the normal advice and said everyone was waiting at a restaurant called Beirut for our farewell dinner. Most of the World arc boats and crew were at the dinner. Matt our excellent line handler had whizzed off to catch up with his friends and watch his favorite team New England Patriots loose to the underdogs Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl. The Lebanese meal was nice but maybe not for us after an long day. It was sharing plate and “Geoff don’t like sharing” So after just an hour and a half we and the other now Non WARC crew went back to the marina for a well-earned rest.
The WARC had arranged a tour the next day starting at 8 am so were up at 7am and ready to go at 8. Unfortunately, the tour guide was not ready, so another gent was organised and we had a 3 hour tour of Panama. It really is a town on the up, the skyline could be mistaken for Hong Kong and many building were under construction. The old town has also been given facelift and is a very safe and interesting part of panama but on one taxi ride later in the week we did witness the other side of the city. The taxi driver locked the doors and we drove through a very run down populated part Panama and this was less than half a mile from the now refurbished old town, that is heavily policed.
The contrast between the old buildings and new was very evident.
Our time in panama has been quite relaxed, we ate out at a Colombian restaurant with Greg and Jane on my birthday, returning another day as the food was lovely. We went to a large supermarket to fill up on basic foods ready for the pacific. Pasta rice, tinned meat etc and of course tomato paste.
We did visit a Smithsonian center where they had examples of some wildlife of Panama from tiny poisonous frogs to tropical fish, iguanas, turtles and of course sloths.
The marina Playita is set along a long causeway so sits approx. 5miles from town but there are plenty of taxis taking people to and from this peninsula. In the day the small shops and restaurants are quiet but by 5pm the whole area becomes alive with families and friends walking, cycling and skating along the parade. I have never seen so many 4 wheeled bikes in use ever and as we like to be part of the local culture on my birthday Geoff and I took a ride along the parade. Joanna reminded us of the last time we hired one was in Butlins approx. 1998 when matt and jo had the quad bike and Geoff and I had rollerblades, no roller blades 20 years on! The marina is also a start point for trips to the Isla Taboga and every day hundred of day trippers would line up with their cool boxes ready for a day on the beach. We did wonder if it was exceptionally busy because schools were still on summer break and because the weekend of Friday 9th Feb to lunchtime Wednesday 14th is carnival and long public holiday. The carnival occurs in the new town and unfortunately we did not make the parades but did watch the fireworks every evening.
As Valentines days arrived, time was now approaching for us to leave la Playita marina and sail to some close (35miles) pacific islands called Las Perlas. When here we will be giving the hull a final clean over and ensuring safe stowage of all our supplies ready for the next leg of our adventure 900miles to the iconic Galapagos islands.