Panama 2014



December 12 - Press any key to resume

We are back aboard Baraka after a 4-month visit home to visit family and friends.

Our flight was rebooked through Miami after Dallas was closed for weather. After tossing off ski parkas in Seattle, we peeled the rest of the layers at Panama. Sub-freezing temps to high 90s! We were met in Panama by Roger with our names on a sign, and taken to Deb's Cruisers Casa for 2 nights. On the way, Roger took us to Pricesmart to load up on bulky and heavy shopping. Roger was the dockmaster at the now-defunct Panama Canal Yacht Club, and currently runs a busy business supporting cruisers' needs.

Deb offers cruisers a welcome respite in Panama City, renting out rooms in her comfortable penthouse. It's a crossroads, an opportunity to meet other cruisers coming and going. She also provides provisioning and transport services.

Yesterday Roger drove us home to Baraka, on supports in the workyard. The boat is crusty with dirt but the rented humidifier did its job - no ugly surprises below. There are light mold blooms on the ceiling, nothing a good scrubbing won't fix, and no hideous odors. We hoisted our luggage and shopping aboard and got unpacked and partially stowed. I went to the pool to cool off, but slipped on wet tiles and wretched my back and a calf muscle. Today I can hardly move, much less climb the ladder, so am stuck aboard. This won't help the yard schedule!

Dave is already working at the fiberglass repair on the keel bottom, legacy of a repair done by a previous owner that now needs attention. Weather is hot and muggy. Aboard we can't use the head, and have no refrigeration or AC until we are back in the water. Dave got the fans going, whew. We hate being in the yard, and had hoped to splash by Christmas or sooner. The bottom paint and new starter battery arrived when we did.

We will need to figure out how to do the Panama clearances. Our 90-day tourist visa must be replaced by an expensive cruisers visa (yacht owners are obviously rich), plus we will need a Cruising Permit ($192). For the canal, there are admeasurement fees, transit fees, pilot fees, equipment fees (tire fenders and long lines), bank fees, insurance fees, all of which will approach $2k even if we don't use an agent. Given that a container ship pays nearly a half million to lock through, we feel lucky that the canal commission will still bother with tiny boats. And we keep in mind, a few thousand dollars saves us sailing around South America! A bargain, considered that way.


December 19 - Yard progress

We'd hoped to splash Saturday but more likely Monday. Removal of the old depth sounder proved stubborn, in the grip of hardened epoxy that had to be slowly chewed out with every tool aboard. But now the project is going forward, keel work done, two coats of fresh paint on the bootstripe, and the prop cleaned and waxed. Tomorrow we can start prep for bottom painting.


December 21 - Pacific Planning

Dave made the nice drawing of our options to compare miles on each leg. Trade-offs - do we add miles to break the long passage into pieces? How many times do we want to cross the ITCZ? Which courses offer the best angles of sail and steady winds? Do we really care about going to the Galapagos? On many people's bucket list, but after all we have seen and done, maybe not the thrill it once was. There is also Clipperton, and possibly Midway to the west of Hawaii. Or we could beat up the coast to Mexico, something neither of us feel enamored with. One consideration is that we may find other boats going our direction if we head to Galapagos, then Marquesas. We always like company, at least on the radio net, even when no one is near. We don't have to decide yet.

Meanwhile, we are still in the yard, looking good to splash on Monday. The keel repair and replacing the depth sounder took longer than expected.

Dave maps put our options for sailling home.


Christmas Eve - Splashed!

Yippee! We are back in the water, just in time for Christmas. Yesterday we did final painting where the supports had been, then were moved via trailer to the travelift. Interesting process - the trailer allows boats to be packed very tightly in the work and storage yards. The yard men are expert at splaying the supports at an angle to slide the trailer in. Looks tricky, but seems to work. Then the travel lift does the short transfer from trailer to haulout dock. Dave dashed below to check the reseated knotmeter and new depth transducer for leaks (dry, yay!) then to burp the shaft seal. This fills the bellows with water. Bad news - a steady leak. He did it several more times, and the leak slowed. By the time we motored to the slip it was a slow drip. A few minutes in reverse in the slip, and it seems seated again - no more leak.

There is always a bit of drama getting back afloat. We're happy the engine started right up and sounds good. Now we can start the clean up... We are very dirty both topsides and below, and all sails and lines are still packed away. Lots to do to turn us again into a sailboat. But we have refrigeration, a working toilet, and air conditioning if we want it. Life is again much more comfortable.


December 27 - Progess at the dock

Dave got the refurbished instruments reinstalled today, while I worked on rigging and laundry. Lots to do, and we are taking full advantage of this quiet time at the dock. The boat systems are one-by-one coming back to life. Dave installed a new propane alarm system, got the watermaker reinstalled (which had to be removed for the depth sounder project) and rebuilt our fresh water pump. Antennas, disconnected for lightning, are reconnected, and the Ham/SSB radio is working. He is steadily working down his project list. I reran the mainsheet, traveler lines, boom brake and preventer, inched the mainsail back up, and reinstalled the stackpack. We had carefully stripped everything we could, and the payoff is very little mildew.

Made a couple decisions today - we joined the 2014 Pacific Puddlejump. This gives us visibility into other boats headed our way. And we decided to hire an agent for the Panama paperwork. We normally do it ourselves, but we have a couple constraints, concern about timing with the World ARC coming through in late January, and guests who will have a plane-ticket schedule. Roy Bravo comes highly recommended and we hope he can smooth our path and book the transit dates we want.

The path between the seas.


December 29 - Working down the list

Roy Bravo has obtained our transit number and booked our admeasurement for Tuesday. Nice to have someone taking care of the details.

Dave replaced the small bilge pump while I worked on dinghy projects, cleaned awnings and inventoried the food lockers. Tomorrow we are taking the day off from boat projects, catching the marina shuttle to Quatros Altos mall for shopping.

A little drama this evening. The bilge high water alarm came on. Dave had closed the thru-hull to work on the bilge pump. When we turned on the AC, the cooling seawater that normally exits through that thru-hull filled the bilges, coming backwards through the bilge pump! Though Dave has diagrams for every system, even after all these years there is sometimes discovery. Quick fix, opening the thru-hull, no harm done. Nice to know our high water alarm works.


December 31 - Mast work and planning

Today Caesar came aboard and measured Baraka - 45 feet end to end - for the canal transit. This puts our transit fee at $800, though we will pay out closer to 2k by the time we are done.

Our agent, Roy Bravo, came by. He will arrange our transit date, probably for February 6-7, and will get the required fumigation certificate for the Galapagos. We also heard back from a Galapagos agent with details on requirements there. Sounding doable.

This afternoon Dave went up the mast, to replace the masthead light lens, tighten furling screws, rerun the spinnaker halyard and the stackpack lines, and free the jammed messenger line for the staysail halyard. We are making significant progress, though the list seems to grow at the same rate! This is our chance to get all shipshape before the coming season of passagemaking.

New Years Eve - a year ago we were still in South Africa, the New Years before that in Thailand. Seems amazing to us to have come so far in two short years. We are grateful to have good health and a strong boat.


January 5 - Starting to look like a sailboat

Yesterday the winds died so we took the opportunity to hoist the furling jib back up. We are docked stern-to the normal trade winds and so needed a quiet day. Dave got the watermaker going, did genset maintenance, and today is rebuilding the outboard carburetor. We also have been doing a lot of planning. Dave has calculated the number of motoring and genset hours Panama to Hawaii to figure out diesel and oil requirements, while I am massaging the food inventory for an estimated 54 days at sea plus 24 days in port. We eat differently at sea, lots of convenience foods, easy to grab and quickly heat or eat cold. I am making lists for Reys, PriceSmart, Riba Smith as some items are best found each place.


January 8 - Cheap Thrills

Yesterday Dave and I took the marina shuttle to Quatros Altos Mall. 22 people are packed into a small bus for the bumpy hour+ ride. The time is variable, because we generally have to wait at Gatun Locks for a ship to load into one lock or the other. Once locked in, a one-lane bridge is swung outside each lock gate, and cars can cross.

At the mall we hit the cash machine, bought Digicel top-up cards for phone and modem, and Dave visited Casa des Baterias to get prices to replace two of our batteries, recently deceased. They will deliver to the marina, plus haul away our old batteries for a credit. I spent several hours in Reys supermarket mounding a cart high - $620 worth of groceries - working from a detailed inventory list of how many of each item I need for the next 3-4 months. Reys delivered a van load back to the marina. They deliver free if the tab comes to more than $300. Back aboard we stripped off extra packaging, and sorted everything into their appropriate lockers, while I checked off the inventory list. We still need a handful of hard-to-find items, and have not yet bought the meats for the freezer. We will also need a final dash on the Balboa side to load the produce bins. This is not our biggest provisioning - maybe only half what we did in Mexico, Singapore and South Africa. Satisfying day!


January 17 - Yansaladup

On the morning of the 15th we weaned ourselves from the comforts of a marina, and motored out the Limon breakwater into lumpy seas. Dave raised the main, and we were able to motor sail all the way to Linton. Both of us had a little trouble getting our sea legs after so many flat months.

Linton is interesting, a protected hole filled with cruisers. It seems to have a lively community of international liveaboards. Early yesterday we pulled the anchor for the 45-mile leg eastward to the San Blas. Winds aft the beam! We pulled Fat Albert out and enjoyed a spinnaker run all morning, until the winds clocked a bit forward. Then we sailed with single reefed main, full jib and staysail, making good time. Hadn't expected to sail - the way east is almost always a lumpy bash, but we had fairly comfortable seas and a dry trip.

We arrived at Chichime to find the anchorage packed, so tried the anchorage in the lee, but couldn't get the anchor to bite. A lot of the San Blas is a shallow layer of sand over coral bed, so we take our time getting a good set. We moved on the Yansaladup, coming late in the day in poor light between some sandbanks, on the Bauhaus charts but not on our CMAP or Navionics. Took a waypoint too wide and nudged a bank. Dave saw it in time to already be slowing, and easily backed us off, no harm, but a reminder to only move with overhead sun. We anchored just south of Yansaladup, a small palm island with one hut. The barrier reef is a half mile away, surf roaring. Lovely wind through the boat, and the gentle massage of a protected anchorage. Good to be back in the San Blas!


January 22 - Tugboat Island

Dave replaced the fresh waterpump and the kitchen faucet, and fixed a stuck shower head. We had visitors - a sahila (chief) came by to sell us a Kuna Yala flag made by his wife. He pointed to our Panama flag, but was emphatic that we are not in Panama! In fact the Kunas cut off the heads and legs of those "Spaniards" to get independence! (This happened in 1925. We bought Jose's flag and kept our heads). Venancio also visited, and remembered me as a good mola customer from late July. He is busy - between the World Arc and cruise ships, he is often away from home, but said he would be at Isla Maquina if we wanted to come by on the 26th or 27th. Then Safeway showed up! A large open launcha with 4 men drove up, loaded with beer, produce and other goodies. I was still well-stocked from Shelter Bay but hope to see them again when stocks run low.

I kayaked out to the reef and rode the current back. Then Dave and I snorkeled at the nearby one palm cay, and tooled around via dinghy through the East Lemmons anchorage, filled with 20 boats. There are some big changes here, more apparent than last July. We motored over to tiny Tugboat Island to try a new (to us) anchorage. Bauhaus 2010 guide says the pretty island is uninhabited, but now there is a small backpackers resort. A boat came out and collected $10 from us for anchoring here.

Most days Kunas drop by to offer lobster. Yesterday they also had conch and a crab. We feel Kuna Yala is on the cusp of change - if the road out gets paved, there will soon be extensive tourism development in these pretty islands, and the traditional Kuna life will be gone. This is sad to us, who have enjoyed the privilege of seeing this fascinating and gentle society in 1990, and again now, but economically perhaps a very good thing for the Kunas who have made a subsistence living, on fish and coconuts. It's easy to idealize their simple existence, though few of us would give up modern comforts to trade places.

Dave itches to take a dugout home.

Local sahila installs a Kuna Yala flag.

Locals deliver fresh "vivo!" lobster.

Safeway visits Baraka.


January 26 - Rio Sidra

Fun Day! We were ready to pull anchor at the West Lemmons, having arranged a visit to a traditional chicha ceremony, when Venancio came by. Couldn't pass up a chance to see his quality molas, so invited him aboard. A hour later we parted, both parties happy, but we were late running down to Isla Maquina. As we approached Maquina we were met by Venancio's brother in his launcha, who led us to the protected anchorage at Gaigur, tucked behind mangrove islets. Then we were taken to Rio Sidra for the first day of the 4 day chicha ceremony. Two girls, one at puberty and one 8 years old are isolated in a new grass hut adjoining the chicha building. "Important men" - sahilas - wearing pink shirts, filled coconut shells with chicha, a fermented sugar cane drink, then led sort of a conga line of dancing women around the village. A Kuna lady offered a taste to Bev and me, so we risked a sip. Tasted like beer. We were not allowed to take pictures. We walked down to Lisa Harris' house and looked at more very fine molas. Lisa very kindly explained the importance of nuchus - wooden carved dools that contain live spirits and protect the Kunas. Lisa talks to and feeds her nuchus. First time I've seen them, and we really enjoyed learning something about them.

Venancio comes by to show us fine molas.

The quality is excellent! Tough to choose.


January 27 - Rio Esidra trip

Rolfe here.

Ilfonso came for us at 10 in his launcha, accompanied by his extended family - 3 adult women in brightly colored traditional dress (including molas), plus five kids aged 2 to teens, and a young nephew deckhand. Destination: up the Rio Esidra to the cemetery where Ilfonso's father was buried five years ago, accessible only by shallow draft boat.

Kunas live on 49 of the San Blas islands (Kuna Yala) but bury their dead on the mainland. They don't live there (too many bugs) but rise before dawn to work farms several hours' jog inland every day. Most of the day is spent paddling by cayuca (dugout) from the village, then traveling several hours by foot to the crops.

The river was almost as narrow as it was shallow, requiring the outboard to be tilted up and the deckhand to pole.

Each gravesite is protected from the elements by a wall-less hut, covered with thatch or corrugated metal. We watched as the teenagers and women built a fire and put the coals in a fired clay pot which they placed on the grave. Next they put exactly eight cocoa beans on the coals, whose aroma would reach the deceased in heaven.

The Kuna women were particularly aloof, never responding to my smiles, looking very stoic and not even chatting among themselves in our presence. They and the kids could only speak the Kuna language.

Bev loves nothing more that to connect with people, especially those from different cultures, and it wasn't long before she was sharing her water with them in the hot cemetery. The barriers had really started to come down while we were in the launcha when she began inspecting their molas and jewelry, including elaborate beads strung around their calves in intricate and precise patterns.

They began looking out for Bev, who at a foot taller than the Kuna women, was in danger of hitting her head as we walked among the grave shelters, even taking her by the hand or arm.

As Dave erased all evidence of the burned Baraka garbage, I headed back to the launcha to find the kids cooling off in the river, waving at me and yelling, "hola!" In the village yesterday we were not allowed to take photos or video during the chicha ceremony, but out here we had no restrictions, so out came the camcorder. It was fun to play it back for the kids (and adults) and watch them point at themselves and giggle. Even I had broken down some of the barriers.

Jan and Bev still didn't have enough molas purchased, so we asked Ilfonso to run us back to his village on Isla Maquina. That would be fine with him, but could we stop at Baraka so that Dave could pick up his voltmeter (and tools)? He told us in his broken but understandable English that his solar panel system had broken during a lightening strike, and could we determine whether his battery was shot.

Back at Baraka, we could see that the gang, no longer timid around us, was eager to explore the boat, so Jan and Dave invited them below decks. The tiny women had no problem scampering down the ladder - I had seen one in Rio Esidra 'walk' up an 8' pole with a few indentations whacked into its side to a loft in a hut.

They were all fascinated to see water running from faucets, bunks, a gimbaled stove, etc. I had a boy put his hand on a bottle of water from the refrigerator to see that it was cold. I later kicked myself for not thinking to turn my camcorder on to record their wonder.

Dave and I would much rather fix electrical problems than watch women select molas, so we were grateful to have an excuse to be led through the village to Ilfonso's house. These islands are either getting smaller or the populations are growing, so despite the Kuna's extending their land with pieces of coral, their pole and thatched roof buildings are packed in tight, right down to the water's edge. The Kuna's easily navigate the small passageways, but Dave and I had to continually watch our heads as we seemed to be walking though house after house rather than down a street.

The village has many solar panels held up on wooden frameworks, charging large 12 volt batteries. Inverters power low wattage bulbs in at least some of the huts. It took us awhile to understand the haywired configurations and do our troubleshooting, but we were able to be helpful. Ilfonso also showed us a separate system, not haywired, that had been installed in his house by the Panamanian government, apparently. Last night the porch light (illuminating a path between the houses) quit working. We isolated that to a switch from which a wire had worked loose and had it working again easily.

Back at Baraka our wives were several molas heavier and the men's wallets were several dollars lighter. It had been hot all day, especially since we had to dress in long sleeved shirts and long pants for the jungle, so the four of us decided to ignore the risk of crocodiles and take a swim off the boat.

Refreshed, we sat down to Jan's tacos and recounted the experiences of the fabulous day.

Bev Here!

$$$$ First things first. Molas are exquisite panels of brightly colored reverse quilting worn at the midriff, sewn into flowery blouses that the make women look like tiny butterflies. The patterns are geometric, or intricate representations of wild birds turtles or ceremonial depictions. After oogling for hours, decided I needed several more to add to the two Jan gifted me. I was in color, fabric fondling heaven. I was going to buy one more, scratch that, two more to frame for a spot in my studio.

Temptation be damned. I succumbed. Many hours and many dollars later, I now have in my personal collection 20 of the most beautiful panels a fabric junkie could ever have! I have a personally signed in blood IOU to Jan so we can pass through the Panama Canal unmolested.

For a person who got a "D" in typing I am going to relate only a few special moments.

The San Blas in Cuna Yala is a magical place with tropical warmth and colors to make heaven jealous. 45 islands are inhabited out of 350, some islands a one coconut blip in a sea iridescent blue green. Small dugout canoes were paddled or motored through the water. Some unfurled a triangular sail.

Jan and Dave dingy-ed ashore. Rolfe and I chose the dryer option a launcha. Upon arrival Rio Esidra, I watched about 6 young boys some watching and some jumping with glee into the ocean. I started clapping and hooting each time a boy would jump into the water. my normally reserved self ...Not. Pretty soon their number increased to 10 diving like little pelicans, one right after the other. Each one trying to outdo the one before with more spectacular jumps, flips and complex hand positions to get one more hoot and clap from me. Each would swim to the shore and slither up the mud and rocks like a pack of glistening brown lizards. Back onto the dock and more displays of " mom look!no hands." must be cross cultural, universally delightful, pure boy.

So more later from the great.. Adventure woman. Chest pounding Tarzan yell.

Love, Bev

We visit Rio Sidra for a chicha ceremony, which we cannot film.

Mola Lisa signs her work for Bev.

I bought this mola from Lisa in 1990.

In 2014, she shows a new work in progress, same design.

Dave asked to see a work in progress, to better understand the steps to make a mola. Lisa pulled out the one on the right. Took my breath away! This is the identical pattern to a mola I bought at Rio Sidra in 1990, apparently from Lisa!!! I showed Lisa a photo of the 1990 mola on my iPad, and she calmly acknowledged it was her design.

The new version has the background layer, and initial design cut out to be stitched on. The right right is slightly further along. Soon the topmost dark red layer will be added, cut and turned under to reveal the figures below. Two pipe-smoking women stir the chicha in pots, while seated men fan the flames. I have always considered this to be a "museum-quality" piece, the finest I am fortunate enough to own. I paid $40 back in 1990. The mola was in very good shape with fine detail, but clearly heavily worn, adding to its charm.

On the way home Dave and I spot this man of war.

Ilfonso brings his family for our river trip.

A kuna lady shows us her mola.

Ilfonso's family visits his father's grave weekly. Our river trip was combined with this family excursion, which turned into a delightful bonus.

Another lady smoothes her legging beads...

... to show off the intricate pattern.

The river narrows and shoals, requiring Ilfonso's nephew to pole us the final bit.

At the grave, cocoa bean incense will be burned.

And leaves are stolen from hardworking ants.

Cocoa beans and stolen leaves are placed on the grave.

Time to head home.

Rolfe shares his video with the subjects, thawing the ice.

Ilfonso's family visits Baraka.

Parking lot, Isla Maquina.

Maquina has solar power.

Thatchwork Kuna home.

Ilfonso's father was a reknowned basket maker. They hang high in the rafters with the clothes closet.

A Kuna girl beautifies Bev...

...lovely.

Rolfe and Dave work on Ilfonso's solar power system.

Time to sail on. We reluctantly pull ourselves away.


January 30 - the Holandes

Rolfe manned the chartplotter at the nav station to talk us back out of the protected anchorage of Gaigur, guiding Dave at the wheel to exactly walk back over our entry track. I was on the bow to confirm a clear passage through shoals and reefs. Soon we were again in open water, and motor-sailed slowly to windward toward the Holandes. We intended to enter the shallow lagoon in the central Holandes. Rolfe was again on the chartplotter, following the Bauhaus waypoints. On the bow, I could not see an entry - brown shoal all the way across, so we aborted and sailed a little further west. Dave discovered the alternator again overheating with a slipping belt, so we ducked into the west entrance of the central lagoon, anchoring in the cut in 15' of water. Rolfe and I dove on the anchor, tucked in fine, so we spent the night. Good exercise swimming against the current in the cut! A cayuca with one large lobster came by, so we enjoyed lobster linguini.

Next morning Dave quickly fixed the belt problem, and we moved a little further, to the west Holandes. Bev and Rolfe kayaked to the island by the "swimming pool" anchorage, but the local caretaker wanted $2 each to land, and they had only brought $2 total. Time for a little snorkeling on the reef by the boat! Some nice corals, and variety of small fishes including several cuttlefish.

This morning we again moved a little westward, this time tucking into the "hottub" anchorage, very calm in the lee of mangrove islets and protected from the south by a reef. Another lobsterboat came by - Rolfe parted with $30 for 5 lobsters, then cleaned them. They were annoyed to have their tails cut off, squeaking and kicking. An somewhat official launcha showed up, and handed Dave a typewritten page that said we owe $10 for anchoring in the Holandes to the 6 villages that own these islands. We dinghied to the "Japanese coral garden" for a snorkel but found the current too strong, so went a little further to a small sandbar with very nice snorkeling. Rolfe found some translucent fish - you could see their dark intestines. Bev found some nice conch shells, and I found a pillow sand dollar.

Dave has been watching weather. We'd planned to leave tomorrow for Linton. But now largish seas with short interval are forecast, and we are considering staying one more day in the San Blas to have an easier ride.

Bev here! And... glad to be here! We were invited to a colorful Chicha ceremony that celebrates girls. Girls rule. The ceremony only happens twice a year and lasts for five days so we felt very privileged to attend. The Chicha ceremony is kind of a coming out party. For two days (this time) a girl of eight and one of 14 were secluded in a newly made hut where their hair is cut short, different lengths (not sure why) The rest of the village parties like crazy.

A large community thatched hut filled held the celebrants. Burning coconut husk smoke permeated the air. It took a while for our eyes and nose to become accustomed to the hazy, dark room. Women sat on wooden benches in one corner and the men around the perimeter in two rows. Large amphora type jars filled with Chicha, a fermented sugar cane beverage were positioned in the front. Both sexes smoked cigarettes, or pipes. The women who smoked flaunted themselves around like they were getting away with something. Women were dressed in obi type colorful quilted molas, red and yellow head scarves and sarong skirts. Beautiful glass beaded leg and arm coverings are gorgeous.

Chiefs - "important men" - wearing bright pink shirts and black brimmed hats paraded in and out of the two doors, holding coconut bowls filled with Chicha held at chest level. Women formed a conga line after them, turning to one side then the other, tapping their feet on the packed sand. Both men and women liberally imbibed large gulps and and freely dipped again and again. Yep, Jan and I tried the murky green beverage and lived to tell about it. The chiefs paraded through the village in a line, coconut filled bowls. Afterward some pretty happily inebriated people staggered and weaved their way home. Beautiful memories.

Rolfe explores the Holandes.

Enough molas! Time to go.

Portobello fortress.

Rolfe and Bev return from exploring.


February 2 - The Last Marina

We had an easy motor from Portobello to Shelter Bay Marina. I called on the radio for a slip assignment, and was told my brother Bruse had just arrived! Bruse is our 4th line handler for the canal transit. What a delight for us to be sharing this occasion with my family! We booked an early meal so Bev and Dave could watch the Seahawks win the Superbowl, serendipitous timing!

Shelter Bay represents our last time in a marina until Hawaii in late spring. We made a run to the grocery at Quatro Altos, topped up diesel and water tanks, washed the boat and laundry, took stand-up showers, and re-stowed the anchor chain lower in the hull. Dave and I know this is the last time a hose or power cable will reach the boat for some months, and the last time we can readily step ashore without a dinghy ride. Marinas represent opportunity and convenience, but of course are not why we cruise. It is still bittersweet to pull away from such comforts.


February 4 - Lake Gatun!

This morning Roy delivered our paperwork. Rolfe and Bruse rigged the long lines for the locks and tied 8 tires to the sides of Baraka. By 3:30 we were circling in the flats awaiting our advisor. An hour later he boarded, a very nice and competent Edgar, who had us motor slowly toward the Gatun Locks. We again hovered along the side of the canal for 2 large freighters to exit, then another 3 to load. We pulled alongside Manitau, a pretty 60' Oyster headed to Sausalito, and rafted the 2 boats together. We then followed Bosse, a 500' freighter, whose lockage we would piggyback on. Line handlers high on the wall flung monkey fists down. We tied these to our lines, then fed our heavier lines up to them to be placed over bollards. Soon the huge locks gates swung closed behind us, and water started boiling up through giant valves in the lock floor. Gatun Lock is actually 3 steps, rising nearly 90 feet from the Caribbean to Lake Gatun. As Baraka rose, Rolfe and I had to pull in slack line, to keep both yachts centered. A thorough workout! But no drama, all went smoothly. We could clearly see the mule trains centering the large ships in both parallel locks. The trains hold the ship in position off the walls, but the ship turns its own prop to advance to the next lock step, creating some turbulence for us small yachts off their stern. Our lockage ran later than scheduled, so we exited into Lake Gatun after dark to find our unlit mooring buoy. Edgar knew where to direct us. Rolfe and Bruse manned the foredeck with a spotlight while Bev cooked up dinner below.

We are between the seas! Tomorrow the advisor is to arrive at 6:30 or 7 am, and we will resume our transit, crossing Lake Gatun to Pedro Miguel locks, then to Miraflores. Both sets of locks will drop us back down to sea level, this time in the Pacific, first time since 2010. It amazes us that the Canal system will still accommodate small boats like us, when there is a backlog of tankers and freighters that pay 1/4 to 1/2 million per transit. Very exciting to be here, and sharing this event with dear family. 2014 marks the hundred year anniversary of continuous operations for the Canal. Alongside we can see the construction of the new canal, in trouble now with cost overruns. The European companies who have the construction concession are demanding a large payment to continue, so work is stalling. The new canal would more than double capacity as it will support larger than Panamax (the 1000 foot ships that fit in today's locks).

Back to Colon.

Gatun Locks - we are leaving the Atlantic.

We have a superlative crew aboard.

We hover waiting for 2 freighters to exit...

The gates for the new locks stand patiently.

The freighters clear the locks.

Yikes! We are going to lock up with Bosse!

Train engines keep Bosse centered.

Gates close, up we go.

Lake Gatun, created by damming the mighty Chagres. Rolfe reads pertinent passages from Path Between the Seas.


February 5 - Baraka in the Pacific!

Our new advisor, Guillarmo, arrived by 7 am. Baraka was tied mid-ships to a huge rubber buoy. We cast off, unfurled the jib, and raced across Lake Gatun for an 11:30 appointment at Pedro Miguel locks. We spotted a croc swimming. We got to witness the lockages of huge ships up close and personal. Most interesting was the Galliard or Culebra Cut, where countless tons of material had to be blasted and dredged to bring the continental divide to the level of Lake Gatun. The cut is being widened to support the new canal traffic.

At Pedro Miguel, we again hovered around waiting for 2 tour boats and a small freighter to arrive. The smaller tour boat arrived first and rafted to the wall at the far end of the lock. Then the larger sailboat rafted to them, and Baraka to the sailboat. This meant our line handlers were free - no work on the descent. The larger tour boat rafted to the wall just off our stern, then the freighter was towed into place. The lockage down is just as quick, but with far less turbulence. We popped out of Pedro Miguel and motored to Miraflores for the final 2 steps down, again with the same raft up scheme, and stepped back into the Pacific for the first time since 2010. The pilot boat picked up our advisor. We hailed the yacht club to pick up our tires. No joy, so we grabbed a buoy though they claimed to be full. The buoy is for a superyacht. We will spend the night, then move to La Playita anchorage tomorrow unless Balboa can give us a buoy. Nancy and Denny saw us on the webcam! and skyped to tell us so. Very satisfying day. We are one giant step closer to home.

Dredging to widen for the new canal.

Panamax ships are the largest currently supported.

Centenniel bridge spans 2 continents.

Rolfe mans the bow lines.

We lock back down, to the Pacific.

We are rafted for the descent.

Miraflores, final locks.

Going down is easy.

One of my 3 favorite brothers. Each is wonderful.

Rolfe captures the action for us.

Pacific! One giant step closer to home.

Baraka at Balboa Yacht Club

We enjoy a couple days at a buoy at Balboa Yacht Club, readying the boat for the Pacific.

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