Sailing from Panama to NZ... 2009 travel blog

Our Boat



Panama at last.

We finally made it.Got to the Shelter Bay Marina, Colon where our yacht was waiting.. Michael the owner/skipper was surprised to see us as we had lost communication due to making our way from Australia. The travel time was about 40 hours. On arrival to Panama we got an email from him saying that he was going to line-handle on another persons yacht named Gipsy Days through the Panama Canal.

Four line handlers are required on the boat, plus a helmsman, and the official Canal Pilot. Four heaving lines, each with a large monkey ball on the bitter end, are  tossed to the line handler from the wall of the lock chamber, and tied to our four lines. The heaving lines are then retrieved to the top of the lock wall with our long lines attached, and our lines made fast to bollards on the top of the walls. As the water level slowly rises about 25 feet our line handlers under the direction of the pilot slowly take up lines evenly, keeping the boat centered in the lock chamber. When the water level reaches the next level, the lock doors open, and we slowly proceed into the next chamber. The doors close behind us, and we rise another 25 feet. The total lift is about 75 feet in three steps to the level of Gatun Lake. Where there are howler monkeys that howl to each other all night.

Larger boats are held in place in the locks by steel cables controlled by small motorized cars called  mules driven by electricity on small gauge tracks along both canal walls. The large ships are  pulled from chamber to chamber by the mules, to avoid the propeller wash in the lock chamber that stopping and starting boats with their own power would cause.

We went to the last lock in anticipation of meeting up with Michael. We did see him on Gipsy Days but could not make him hear what we were yelling at him..Bearing in mind none of us knew each other at this stage.. So we did not know which of the crew on Gipsy Days was him and None of the crew knew who in the heck were yelling at them. So off they went into the Pacific ocean.We did not know where they were headed as there are three possible places for them to anchor.

We were in a car so we attempted to track them by driving ahead of them and stopping at each of the marinas in turn to wait to see if they would turn in or go on by..We did that for the first two and as they went on by we drove on to the last possible stop. After some time they finally came along. In the meantime we organised a dingy to take us out to meet them. We motored up along side, saw two people in the cockpit, we asked “where is Michael” They said “Oh we dropped him off around the the last bend so he could catch a cab back to Colon” “Who are you?

Our driver for the day was a young kid of 20 years Roddy was his name. He has a near new toyota and has a job in a marina, as a sideline he acts as chauffeur to people like us. He was very good he had all the right contacts for seeking out the where abouts of Gipsy Days in the Panama canal, He even got the access to a VHF radio so we could call Gipsy Days. They did not hear our call anyway.

So all day we were trying to catch up and meet our captain for the next eight months or so, without success but it was an eventful day. At that point we went back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and say goodbye to the friendly staff and got driven to Colon which is about 50 miles away to find Michael and his boat..

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