March 2016

Friday 4th

Off RED FROG MARINA, PANAMA

We moved over here from Bocas to have a look at Red Frog beach, as recommended by daughter Rachel who had been here last year.  Unfortunately the beach has suffered quite a lot of storm damage so wasn’t as good as she’d described it.  The weather wasn’t that good either…

Monday 7th

Bocas del torro, panama

On Saturday we took EL alongside the fuel dock at Red Frog marina and topped up with 160 Ltr.  There was no water at the fuel dock so we went alongside at the marina and “stole” about 400 Ltr of water. Actually I left $20 with another boat to give to the marina owners when they got back from their day off.  We also bought fresh fruit an vegetables from the weekly boat that sells said produce.  After that it was back to Bocas.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day in the UK and we celebrated by going to the Crazy Crab on Cayo Carenero, an island across the harbour from Bocas.  It gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor and we found out why. Here is one happy lady…

Margarita in a Gold fish bowl, amazing!

Off course today we aren’t ear to ear smiles feeling slightly the worse for wear.

Saturday 12th

We have been anchored off Manx Cay, a small island a few miles from Bocas del Torro, close enough to be able to get a phone signal.  Today it is time to start making tracks back to Shelter Bay and hence through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific, how exciting!  On the way we are planning to stop in the Rio Chagres, about 5 Nm west od Shelter Bay and reportedly an idyllic spot.

Thursday 17th

An interesting few days.  Our trip from Manx Cay started badly when the roller reefing wouldn’t unfurl. The start of the passage was sheltered by the cays off Bocas but once out of their lee the sea got quite confused and uncomfortable making me feel quite ill.  Sheryl, on the other hand, never feels seasick, sometimes you can go off people.  We decided to make for the island of Escudo de Veragas about 20 Nm east of Zapatilla Cay and anchor there for the night.  There was another yacht in the anchorage also sheltering from the rough seas.  By the time we left on Sunday morning the sea had moderated hugely and the wind had backed into the west making for much better conditions altogether.  To start with we had both full main and mizzen set together with a small hank on staysail.  By noon the wind had died so we dropped the mizzen and motor sailed at around 4.5 Kts, a speed that would get us into the River Chagres by 0830.

Whilst on watch late Sunday evening I saw an amazingly rare sight – a rainbow by moonlight!  I can best describe it as being in black and white although I’m not sure that was the case. There was a full moon and some thunder showers moving across our track ahead of us.  At first I thought it was a light on a ship and then realised what it really was.  Sheryl was quite annoyed that I didn’t shake her so she could see it, I should have done as I don’t expect either of us will ever see another one.

By 0830 on Monday morning we were anchored in the middle of the Rio Chagres.  What a delightful spot!  Lush, tropical jungle crowding down to the river banks on both sides with Howler monkeys calling in the trees and birds flying in and out of them.  The only sign of humans is the old Spanish Fort of San Lorenzo guarding the entrance to the river and a more contemporary quay used by locals to fish from. The river is perhaps 500m wide and we are smack in the middle.  Upstream it has been dammed to form Gatun Lake, a major part of the Panama Canal.  The first day we were in the river we motored upstream to within about 1 Km of the dam…

I’m assuming that IS don’t read this blog.  It occurred to me that this dam would make a wonderful terrorist target.  On the other side of it is the vast, artificial, Gatun Lake which is a major part of the Panama Canal.  Not only is it the source of water for the locks at each end of the canal it is also a huge length of the navigable water across the isthmus.  Blow up this dam, no more Lake Gatun and no more Panama Canal, for a long time.  Even if the dam could be rebuilt quickly (and I’m sure it would) it would take months if not years for the lake to re-fill.  Think what that would do to world trade.

On a much lighter note there were a pair of Tree Swallows checking us out on Monday and when I got up on Tuesday morning they had started to build a nest in the furls of the mizzen at the outboard end of the boom.  This happened to us whilst we were in Portobello and that time we didn’t notice until we’d gone to see and saw bits of twig and straw falling out of the end of the sail.  In the Rio Chagres I tied up the sail to stop them nest building.  I guess that naturally they build nests in holes in cliffs and banks so our furled up sail must have looked very inviting to them.

On Tuesday afternoon we launched the dinghy and went ashore at the quay below Fort Lorenzo.  We walked up hill for a sweaty kilometre or so to the very well preserved ruin.  It was built by the Spanish, starting in 1585, to protect the treasure galleons as they loaded with bullion brought over the ithsmus from Panama City, just like at Portobello.  On the way up we saw Howler monkeys lazily feeding in the tree tops, birds and butterflies.  Although its a national historic site, or something similar, Fuerte Lorenzo is not looked after by any permanent staff and visitors are free to wander around as they want. No preservation work is evident apart from where a couple of trees growing out of the masonry have been cut down to prevent further damage.  Clearly there are other priorities for government funds.

Fuerte San Lorenzo at the entrance to the Rio Chagres.

We left the beautiful Rio Chagres on Wednesday morning to travel the few miles to Shelter Bay marina where we are now.  As we left we were accompanied by the two Tree swallows who had been trying to nest on EL.  They stayed with us for a couple of miles before eventually realising that their ideal nest site wasn’t so ideal after all.

The next step is quite a big one as we are leaving the Atlantic and Caribbean behind us and transiting the Panama Canal to the vast Pacific.

Thursday 24th

A lot of people use an agent to arrange their boat’s transit of the canal.  I believe the cost is about $500 US and you avoid paying a refundable indemnity of $891.  Being a skin flint I did the legwork myself.  Its actually very easy.  You fill in a short form which the marina office can give you and email it to the Canal Authority’s admeasurer’s office.  You make a phone call and they tell you when the admeasurer is coming to the marina to measure your boat.  He turns up at the appointed time, does the measurement and fills out a bunch of forms.  Our 42′ boat was actually 44′ as they measure from the tip of the anchor to the back of the self-steering gear.  As long as you are less than 50′ it doesn’t matter a jot because the fee is the same for all boats less than 50′ – $984 US.  Most of the paperwork seems to indemnify the Canal Authority against any responsibility for anything.  Once the admeasurer is done you go to the Citibank in Colon and pay your fees, in cash.  They give you a receipt and the same evening you can call the scheduler’s office for a transit date.  Thats it, simple.

It is good practice to do the canal transit as a line handler on another boat before taking your own through.  That way you get to see how its done and learn the ropes first hand (pun intended).  I actually did it twice whilst we were waiting for our turn, both times in a catamaran.  The first occasion was on LUMIEL with three Australians and Stuart Henderson from SKYLARK whose boat, SKYLARK, Sheryl and I both went through on.  Not only is it a lovely trip it is also extremely sociable.

Wednesday 30th

SHELTER BAY MARINA, PANAMA

Today is the day we leave the Caribbean and transit the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean.  The crossing actually takes two days with an overnight stop in Gatun Lake.  We will be in the Pacific tomorrow afternoon.  Rather than a long and boring description of the crossing I’ve done a slideshow. Click here to view.

April’s entry is here.