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Panama Canal

Colon

 

After 40 miles sail we arrived at Isla Grande, where we stayed one night. Because there was not much water on board, we were rushing to arrive to Colon. Not to mention all the boat repairs waiting for us. Colon in commonly known amongst yachties as the urban jungle. The town is notorious by the high criminal rate and daylight mugging mostly by armed children! The only safe place for gringos is the yacht club. That is where all the yachties get together and swap information about paperwork for the transit. There is a real friendly community atmosphere where everybody helps each other. As Judit speaks Spanish we opted to deal with the paperwork for the canal ourselves without the help of an agent. Initially the process looked very complicated, due to a lot of contradicting information. But we were pointed to the right direction thanks to our fellow yachties. From then on it was straight forward. Two days after the arrival the canalís admeasure inspected the boat. He was called Antonio and after measuring the boat, told us about the transit. He was a very helpful and friendly Panamanian.

 

Then our concentration turned to the numerous engine issues. Apart from the engine cutting out from time to time, it was also loosing revs and now it was barely making 5 knots at full power. It took us a while to realize that the lift pump has broken. It was even more difficult to find out why the boat was not reaching full speed under engine.  It turned out to be as simple as a dirty hull. Then we were ready to pay the transit fees and have a transit date. The waiting time for transiting yachts increased to 2 weeks since we arrived, not impressed. Graham and Herbert volunteered to be line handlers for "Frajola". This way they would get first-hand knowledge about the transit. The next day Graham and Judit, volunteered to help another boat, "Nadezhda", owners Pete and Felicity. We met both for the first time in Canaries over 5 months ago. The crossing was a lot of fun and as we anchored in Gatun Lake, Graham's birthday party started.  Herbert also volunteered to handle lines for Aaron.  Aaron's boat is only 19 foot long, five crew and an advisor on board were quite cosy. The yachties in the anchorage were very pleased for Aaron when finally he left for the transit. After a 3 week wait, numerous cancelations later by the Canal authorities, engine problems, including an engine breakdown in Gatun Lake and against the odds finally Carina made it into the Pacific.  Well done and good luck Aaron.

 

 

 

 

The Transit

20th April

George, the adviser arrived at 18pm. By then the anchor was up and we were ready for the last hour. Instead of 4 mandatory line handlers, there were five onboard. Apart from Bolivar, Herbert, John and I, Zane also joined us to experience the transit before flying back to New Zealand after selling his boat in Colon.

Before entering the Gatun Lock, Nomad life was rafted alongside a catamaran, which was the middle boat. Lines were thrown to the outside boats to hold the pack in the centre of the lock. After the ring of a bell, the doors were shut and the lock filled with water. It looked like the water was boiling. There was some turbulence, but nothing to be concerned off.  The water level went up 8 metres in each of the 3 chambers of Gatun Lock.  At Gatun Lake the three boats were separated. George made sure we made to the buoy as quick as possible, once moored he could finally go home. That night we all crashed early after dinner.

 

 

21th April 2007

The wake up call early morning was the amazing noise from the howling monkeys. As soon as one monkey started the whole forest came alive with the howling. John was brave  and had a swim on waters known  to be full of alligators. Later we found out that they are becoming rare around the canal due to the intense boat traffic. Time for a quick coffee and Felipe boarded, he was our adviser for the second day.

He took us through the Banana Cut, a shortcut through the jungle. Here, The Smithsonian Institute has a research centre for the local fauna and flora. Bolivar and G had a bucket shower , obviously not together, the heat was increasing by the hour. Even with the unbearable heat, Herbert adventured down  bellow to fix some pasta salad and sausages for lunch. In the meantime Felipe was amusing us with his stories and also gave lots of information about the Canal. We arrived at the last 3 locks just before midday. We asked Felipe if he could ring the guys who look after the web cam for Panama canal web site and focus the web cam on us. After all we had Brazil and England watching the transit on web! At Miraflores we rafted next to Islamorada, a tourist boat full of yanks. The passengers were from a cruise liner and jumped on Islamorada to experience the last lock. Many of the tourists couldn't believe that we were sailing to New Zealand on such a "small" boat. In front of us was another tourist boat, with a live band on board. The band only became alive on the last lock, the band members spotted the Brazilian flag on our mast then started the carnival. At the same time the last lock was opening and the Pacific slowly came to view, Zane and Herbert popped the bottles of champagne. It was amazing!!!!