It’s the final transit!

Monday afternoon, returning to Morphie from the laundry, we were accosted by four young uniform-wearing gun-toting men who demanded to see our passports.   We weren’t carrying them – just copies – but that wasn’t good enough so they proceeded to give us an armed escort back to Morphie so that we could produce the original documentation.  Felt a bit over the top and unnecessary…the marina has copies of all our documents so know that we are legal.     Grrrrr….

Tuesday morning and Greg came by.  He is the local ‘engine whisperer’ and Richard was keen to get the engine checked prior to our transit.    While he was there they cleaned out the Racor filter and realigned the alternator as we were getting lots of black dust from the fan belt in the engine compartment.   Complete check over and Morphie got a clean bill of health.   Great news!   

While this was going on I was working through how to import a weather route (and all its waypoints) into OpenCPN from PredictWind via the Iridium Go.   And I got it to work – woo hoo.   On a roll I then downloaded some boat routes from Google Earth and imported them into Open CPN for some of the islands we plan to visit in the South Pacific.   Getting quite techy or what?!?   Later on, pleased with our progress for the day, we headed to the pool and bobbed with Charlie and Saundra in the hot tub.   We then had an early night on board.

Wednesday Richard topped up the fuel tank from our jerry jugs and moved all the non-essential lines out of the way in preparation for our transit while I cleaned all the stainless steel.   Richard also cleared out our back cabin ready for Charlie and Saundra.   So there was lots of moving things around and climbing in and out of lazarettes.    We both worked hard all day and later on cleaned up and headed over to Island Sol for dinner where we were treated to the most amazing filet steak dinner.  Thank you both so much.

Thursday morning and the local radio guru came round to check out our SSB which was not talking to the GPS.   This had never worked properly and we just couldn’t identify what the problem was.   Well Pieric came on board like a little tornado.  He talks to everything at great speed in his strong French accent and it was a strain to keep up with him – but he identified the problem straight away and it was – surprise, surprise – a compatibility issue between Garmin and ICom.   But he had a workaround fix and in between lots of French swear words he cut here, snipped here and reattached here.   Voila!   Fixed…and it really was.   But we felt nervous as we weren’t sure what else could have been impacted by the workaround so once he had left we went through everything else to make sure they continued to work.   And they did….sigh of relief….what a marvel!  This had stumped many an expert over the last five years.   We were very happy.  

We continued to prepare Morphie for her transit for the rest of the day and later on we couldn’t be bothered to go out so we just stayed put and had an early night.

Friday morning and we were up very early to take our place on the 7.45 am shopping bus.    We had a small shopping list as this was the provisioning run for the transit food.  On the way – over the locks this time rather than on the ferry – there was a croc sitting in the road.  One of the security guys had shot him in the head….perhaps they taste like chicken?!?   Seriously though why did they have to shoot it???  We hope that they had just put him out of his misery because he had been injured by a vehicle.

Oh yes….an update on line handlers…as you know we had placed an advert on the marina’s notice board.   We had had lots of interest but they were too young, too inexperienced, too scrawny, too old or just plain not suitable….so we decided to hire two experienced line handlers from our adviser.   Erick came by and delivered us our Zarpe, Panama cruising permit, eight big round fat fenders and four long lines – with the news to leave the marina Saturday by 12 for 1pm on the flats anchorage.   So we got on with final preparations before heading off to meet Charlie and Saundra and they treated us to a lovely meal in the marina restaurant.  Thanks again!

Saturday morning and I precooked the food while Richard made sure we were ready to go….and we did the final laundry and made the bed in the aft cabin….the line handlers turned up and told us that the timing had slipped to 1pm.  OK – no worries – so we chilled for a little while.   Charlie and Saundra came by and we slipped away from Shelter Bay and moved across the shipping lanes to the anchorage.  We dropped our hook and waited….and waited….and waited watching the ships and the tugs bussing around.  

We had radioed Christobal control to tell them we were there and they told us 4.30 was our new time.  Thanks for that….     So 4.30 pm came and went and another boat joined us – so now three monohulls and one catamaran.  We were supposed to transit with the catamaran in the middle and Supertramp 3 on the other side.  Well….about five an advisor boat came out and we got excited…and it dropped an advisor off on the catamaran and the other monohull and they took off without us.   Really didn’t know what was going on other than fed up with sitting out there all that time….   

Finally about six our advisor Edwin turned up – and we knew him from our transit with Phil so that was nice – and he told us that we were rafting to the wall.  Oh no we said…we specifically said in our transit papers we were not willing to do that….and he replied don’t worry there is a working boat going on the wall, Supertramp 3 are rafting to him and we’re rafting to them.    He explained how it was all going to work and we were happy….the line handlers were bemused as it meant they didn’t actually have to do anything.    We went slowly towards the lock and then had to go round in circles awaiting the ship that was going in ahead of us.   He went past us and entered the lock…and then stopped moving…and there was obviously a problem ahead.   And we watched the sun going down still waiting and stooging.

Eventually we entered the first lock at 9pm and rafted up…then we went up….unrafted and repeat for the other two locks.  

We reached the mooring balls in Gatun Lake at midnight!    We were all starving as we hadn’t eaten dinner – being told by Edwin that we were on a minute’s notice only of moving so we couldn’t have people with hot food on their laps at that point.   So….we ended up eating at around 1am on Sunday!    We all crashed very shortly afterwards.

Sunday morning and we were up early to see the sunrise.  

This was in preparation for the advisor who should be with us anytime from 7am onwards.   Well….we were ready….and we were waiting…..and again the advisors for the catamaran and the other monohull turned up….leaving us and Supertramp 3 behind.   Finally at 10 am Astro turned up – we had met him on our second transit – so that was nice to see him again.   However, Astro never stops talking about anything and everything especially politics and religion!!!   Slightly annoying….   

We enjoyed our trip through the huge man-made lake enjoying the sights of the ships – including a massive new container ship who overtook us.   Supertramp were ahead of us throughout this time.

We arrived at the Pedro Miguel lock around 3pm and we rafted up with Supertramp.   Astro had to defer to the advisor on Supertramp as he was more experienced.   The instructions were clear but Alan the skipper on Supertramp could not follow them and was slow to react so it wasn’t as smooth as it should have been.   While all this was going on the ship that was going to follow us into the lock was bearing down on us and we got hooted five times on three separate occasions – for those that don’t sail this means Get Out of My F******g Way you Idiot!!!    OMG they are going to kill us…these ships travel at 8 knots dead slow ahead.   Not the best way to start our second day’s transit that’s for sure.    Eventually we got in the lock and we got tied up but we realised that one of the line handlers on Supertramp was inexperienced and didn’t seem to have a clue what to do.   Luckily we had two great handlers in Juan and Herbie who had done this hundreds of times before despite their young ages.

Leaving the lock having gone down towards the Pacific we had to tie up alongside the wall and wait for the lock gates to open so that we could go ahead of Sadah Silver.   This didn’t go well either – the line handlers on the wall decided to use the same bollard to tie our port and stern to – so lots of shouting and eventually we got secured to the wall safely.   More stress….and I was really scared.   Richard gave me a cuddle – he was so calm it was amazing.  Eventually the gates opened into the first Miraflores Lock and we motored in and got tied to the lock without any further incident.  

The water rushed out and we went down another 27 feet towards the Pacific.    Now…from experience…we know that the last lock is the hardest one.   The current runs strongly created by the ship behind, the wind and the fresh and salt water joining together.    Richard took the opportunity to talk to Alan about keeping the boat slow and more to the port side of the lock as the wind was pushing us towards the starboard wall and he voiced his concern over their inexperienced line handler and told him not to use him on the stern as this was the essential line in this lock as it was the brake for the boat.    Astro – who by now had taken control over the other advisor – reiterated what Richard was saying and everything seemed fine.  

We motored in and within seconds we were up to 3.5 knots and put both boats into reverse to slow things down and we were drifting off centre of the lock and despite Richard trying we just couldn’t push Supertramp over as he had a much bigger rudder.  Astro knew this and that the steerage would largely have to be done by Supertramp.    As we continued to drift off centre Richard shouted to Alan to turn to port.    He was slow to react and our port quarter was heading towards the wall.    Richard and Astro shouted again for him to move to port but it was too late – we took a glancing blow on our sugar scoop and damaged the gel coat but thankfully it did not penetrate the fibreglass.    I did manage to get a fat fender there so it limited the damage but with the momentum of the boat rolling forward against the wall it just popped it out.    Lots of shouting….and we finally got off the wall…and got tied up.     I disappeared down below at this point and had a good sob….

Alan didn’t think that this incident was his fault and didn’t show any concern that we had sustained damage to our boat.  But we have to get on with the job of getting out of this lock – the water swirled…and we were spat out into the Pacific in subdued mood rather than the celebratory entrance that we had hoped for…and finally we got ourselves away from the raft with Supertramp.   

Astro spoke to the other advisor and they both agreed it was Alan’s fault – however, to take this forward, we would have to agree to a formal Panama Canal enquiry which would mean that we couldn’t leave until it was resolved which could take weeks.  So we said no, it’s an unfortunate accident, and we’ll just have to get on with it.   

We travelled towards the Balbao Yacht Club and the boys got the fenders and lines ready to go….and Astro was collected.  He was upset about what had happened and he should have been on the case a lot earlier but things happen so fast….and we parted friends.     The launch came out to collect Juan and Herbie – who had been great and were definitely worth having on board.   Without them being so competent we think things could have been a whole deal worse.    We picked up a mooring ball and promptly broke out the drinks.   Then we called a water taxi and we went into the restaurant for dinner and more drinks….then back on board for more drinks….and finally we crashed and burned having got ourselves cleaned up.

This morning, Monday, and we went ashore by water taxi and went to the local hotel for breakfast.   It was a buffet….wasn’t great….although reasonably priced….but it was better than cooking and cleaning on board.    We said sad farewells and walked away leaving them there…..   We have had great times with them over the last two seasons so it was quite emotional.  

We headed back to the yacht club…and went back to Morphie and picked up all her empty diesel jugs.   Back to the dock in the water taxi and I went to the office to get checked in.  The mooring balls here include free water taxi service so no need to get dink down.   

The anchorage is rolly as it is next to the main shipping lanes but otherwise it is convenient.   Calling it a yacht club is a bit grandiose as the anchorage is really fully of working vessels and tourist boats…   I got checked in with an English lady who asked us about our transit – I told her about the damage – and she said they could help us.  She telephoned Ricardo the dock master and, before I had even returned to Richard, he had agreed to get this guy to us either Tuesday or Wednesday (it is carnival weekend until Tuesday night) to have a look.   So hoping that will work out for us.   We are now in the restaurant catching up with the internet as we’ve been offline since Saturday morning.   

Still feel tired….think it might take a few days to recover from the transit….    We still hope to get to Panama City to explore but right now we need to focus on getting Morphie sorted.    Not least restoring the garage and getting the beer mountain out of the saloon LOL.    

Bye for now



Another line handler transit of the Panama Canal

Friday morning we were up early and got ourselves organised for another Panama Canal transit.   We packed our bags, had a decent brunch, and went over to meet Derek and Allison on Arielle – which is a 50 foot Tayana – at 1.30 pm.  Shortly afterwards Terry and Carol, our dock neighbours, joined us and we slipped away from the marina.   We motored over towards the flats and dropped anchor…and wondered how long we would have to wait this time.   Well, amazingly at 3.30 the adviser turned up – only 30 minutes behind Arielle’s allocated time – so all three boats started motoring towards the Gatun Locks through the shipping lines and trying to stay away from the tugs that create huge wakes.   And we enjoyed waving to the Saga Cruise Ship that had just transited the Canal.

Our fellow rafters were a 42 foot French boat and Chris on Sea Bear, which is a 28 foot Vancouver.    We approached the locks and we were impressed by our adviser as he gave clear and succinct instructions to the whole fleet.  We rafted up – with us in the middle – and, usually, that would mean we would sit there and do nothing other than drive the boats through.  Well, as Sea Bear is so small we had to do the bow and stern lines too…so they sat and watched us!  

Into the first lock and we pulled the lines taut to the wall….then the water started coming in strongly and, of course, we have the starboard wall lines at a longer stretch as we had to allow for Sea Bear’s width too…and this is the tougher side.  So Richard and I took the bow and worked it together. 

We were having an uneventful time until the line handlers on the shore got the ropes caught on the wall as we moved between locks…so there was some shouting and hollering before they cleared it.  There was a real risk of propping one of these ropes but luckily Sea Bear were able to keep the line out of the water despite it running behind us.   Something else to watch out for!    But mainly we had a good run through the three locks and, unlike last time, it was still daylight when we arrived in Gatun Lake.

We tied up to the large plastic mooring ball and the adviser was collected by his launch.   We helped Sea Bear raft to the other side and we sat there watching the sun go down having a cold beer and a chilli con carne dinner.  

At 9 pm we headed to bed – it had been a long tiring day.  Richard and I had drawn the short straw so had not got the double berth in the forepeak.   I had a pilot berth and Richard had the saloon settee….but there are no fans on this boat!!!   It was blisteringly hot and within minutes I knew I could not sleep on that berth….so we took ourselves off to the cockpit.

At 5.00 am on Saturday morning a big ship was coming through the new lock and the whistles and horns woke me up.  So we gathered our thoughts…and took advantage of the heads being free to get washed up and changed.   By the time the sun came up we were ready….and the others were just starting to stir…when the adviser turned up!!!  

Yes…it was only just gone 7.00 am in the morning….    Great – so we untied the raft and motored across the Gatun Lake having a lovely cup of tea (as you would expect with a 100% British crew LOL) and breakfast whilst admiring the sights of the huge dredging operation to cut through the solid rock and widen the canal…and the massive maintenance areas.

Finally we arrived at the first lock of the day around 11.00 am and rafted up again and got ourselves settled.   All went well…and then it was time to go down again….this time in the lock furthest away from the visitor centre so there wasn’t any waving to the tourists.   And there was no big ship either – just a large 100 foot+ training schooner, a tourist trip boat and our raft.   

Eventually we cleared the locks and said hello to the Pacific again.  Woo hoo – another successful transit!   We unrafted and motored towards the Balbao yacht club admiring the huge tall ship as we went through…and saying goodbye to our adviser when his launch came to pick him up.

We picked up a mooring ball and said our farewells to Allison and Derek before heading over to land on the water taxi.   Sea Bear crew were not long behind us.  I’d arranged for Mr Stanley to take us all back in his bus so we had a couple of pitchers of beer in the yacht club while we waited – we were almost four hours ahead of our last transit.  

We drove back to Shelter Bay Marina – again on the Caribbean side – by 5.30 pm.  We had a couple of cold ones in the bar and a quick dinner before returning to Morphie for a lovely shower and an early night.   We feel completely ready for our own Canal Transit now – just need two more line handlers.   Everyone that has come to speak to us so far wants to crew all the way across the Pacific – er no thanks….    We have put an advert up on the noticeboard so hope that will get us sorted soon.   

Sunday morning and we bumped into Charlie and Saundra who were at the Cruisers Palapa.   Their big news was that the odious John had left the boat.  Woo hoo…excitement and happy dancing!!!  Glad we don’t have to see his ugly mug ever again.   We did a few jobs on board and met up with them for a bobbing session in the pool later in the afternoon.  

We did intend to go the BBQ in the evening but tiredness overtook us and we had another early night.

This morning, Monday, and we were back on the shopping bus at 7.45 am.   Another big shop…and another trip back via the ferry on the supermarket’s complimentary van.  Not the most comfortable ride but it does save us $30 plus tip…  

We got back to Morphie and put it all away – the back cabin is swiftly turning into a garage – and then took a rest.   We are now in the Cruisers Lounge trying to catch up on internet jobs….more boat jobs beckon tomorrow.

Bye for now


Panama Canal transit as a line handler

Monday morning Phil on Wandering Star had been told that his time to be at the flats anchorage was not until 3.30 – so we decided to have lunch whilst waiting to leave.   In the restaurant we watched a guy cut away his damaged mainsail – ouch, that’s going to hurt his pocket!!!

By 2.30 we were on board, had made our way out of the marina and had crossed the shipping lanes to the flats ‘holding area’.   We had a cruise ship as well as cargo vessels this time.    

We stooged around for a while…and eventually anchored….while we waited.     At around five a launch came out and deposited an adviser on each of the three yachts – one catamaran and two monohulls. We then all picked up anchor and motored towards the locks.    The advisers had decided that the catamaran would be the centre of the raft and that we would raft together outside of the first lock.   There was a huge ship waiting for us in there to join him – so big that he only had two foot either side of him.   

We were told to come alongside the starboard side of the catamaran but he was all over the place and couldn’t hold it straight despite his two engines.  When Phil complained he was told it was because of the wind.    This put our captain and the lead adviser at odds straight away – not a good start!   Anyway…eventually we got rafted together…and moved towards the lock. 

We were crabbing sideways awaiting instruction and the calls from the adviser were late – meaning we were heading at the wall often.  Phil ignored the adviser and, when he wasn’t watching, put his engine in gear and pushed on the raft to try and keep it straight.    He did get told off a few times!!!   But I’m sure we would have done the same in the circumstances.  The other monohull could have helped but, for whatever reason, decided not to.  

Once inside the lock the guys on top of the walls threw their monkey fists to the centre of the boat – with one line for the stern and one for the bow.   Once the raft was in place the line handlers on both sides of the canal pulled through the 125 foot lines Phil had rented and placed them over the cleats on top of the wall.  It is now the responsibility of the boat line handlers to ease / harden up as the lock fills with water.  

The pressure on the boat was huge in the turbulent waters and the monohull on the other side of the raft was getting closer and closer to the wall….the girls on the bow kept on taking up slack so we had to ask them to ease so that we could try and sweat some more line our side to keep the raft in the middle.    This was very difficult with the pressures being exerted but Richard, Chris and Phil managed it between them.   So communication across the two outer boats – despite the adviser instructions – needs to be good so something to watch out for.

Finally we had been raised up almost 28 feet and the ship was moved forward by his trains / mules – amazing.   We recovered our long lines and again were walked through by the advisers on top of the walls with their thin lines…under our own propulsion.   And the whole process starts again…..


And then we go through to the final lock of the day and do it all again.    We went through three locks and got raised up 28 feet each time.  

Finally we were spat out of the locks after the ship had departed, we un-rafted and took off for Gatun Lake.  We arrived behind the other two boats and, despite our adviser insisting on us rafting to the huge mooring ball, we anchored instead.   And of course this is all in the dark as it was around 7.30pm by now.   The launch boat came and picked our adviser up, we said our goodbyes, and we had dinner and a couple of beers.  At this point Richard and I decided to sleep in the cockpit.   We were asleep when we had a little shower but it stopped so we stayed put despite being a little damp – then just as we were asleep again the heavens opened hard.  We got soaked so took ourselves off to the forepeak cabin for the rest of the night.

Tuesday morning and we were up early having breakfast awaiting our next adviser who was scheduled from seven.

He finally turned up around nine…and we picked up anchor….and motored the thirty odd miles through the picturesque lake while he dozed…avoiding the ships and admiring the scenery as we passed through gorges and under the bridge.   

We finally arrived at the Miraflores Locks and we rafted to the catamaran only – the other monohull ended up in the other chamber rafted to a large tug like ship.   We were tied to the wall ready to go and then we waited…and waited….and waited.   We were apparently waiting for another huge ship which, in this lock, comes in behind us. He arrived…and edged slowly closer…and closer….being inched forward by his mules.   

Finally we were all set and the water drained…so this time we are going downwards with the walls rising above us.   This is just fascinating to watch.   

Eventually we were at the bottom and the huge lock gates opened and created turbulence.  We left the lock as a raft and motored towards the next and final lock of the transit.   

The catamaran was gunning it and Phil had to work his engine hard to keep the raft together and not get any cleats pulled out of the deck.   Another valuable lesson – ensure that the boats agree a mutual speed when travelling together in a raft.  Also, there was no point putting that much strain on the boats as we had to wait for the ship to be released from the lock and come in behind us at the next so there was plenty of time.  

Anyway…as we arrived at the final lock the current was pushing us forward even faster and we had to shout at our line handler on the wall to get the line over the cleat in time!!!  

Finally we got secured to the wall once again just behind the lock gates and just waited.  Our adviser was asleep again at this stage – he wasn’t that friendly and quite stand offish – unlike our guy from day one who was pretty chatty.    We were entertained by the visitors centre full of tourists watching over the locks so we did wave to a few….  By five we were still there and the ship is coming in behind us…but the tourists were going to miss our transit as the centre was closing for the day.  

Never mind….the ship was in position…and the water started to drain.    Again the walls rose above us and we worked the lines to deal with the turbulent waters…until finally the gates opened and we were spat out into the Pacific.  Woo hoo!!!   It is hard to describe how impressive this whole process is.     

As we motored towards the Balbao Yacht Club the modern skyscrapers of Panama City poked through behind the docks.   Eventually we arrived and picked up a mooring ball – were taken ashore by a water taxi – said quick farewells and were picked up by our taxi driver.   It had been a long transit as we didn’t arrive until almost six pm.  

Mr Stanley then drove like a bat out of hell and eventually we were in Colon waiting for the ferry across the canal.   Eventually we arrived at Shelter Bay Marina around nine so we went straight to Morphie, got cleaned up, downed a couple of beers and so to bed.   It had been a tiring couple of days.

Wednesday morning we were booked to go to Colon on the shopping bus…at 7.45 am.   So no lazing around!   We headed off to Millenium Mall first – to visit the huge hardware store.  We did actually find some things we had been looking for – a grease gun, some citronella anti-mosquito candles and of course more nuts and bolts.    We then took a $3 cab ride back to 4 Altos and Rey Supermarket.  Everyone told us to use the Chinese supermarket for cheap booze but we weren’t enamoured so headed back to the main store.   Also the Free Zone had very cheap booze but you have to pay $125 to the adviser who delivers it to the marina to ensure it does actually go on a boat.    Unless you are buying cases and cases the savings aren’t worth it.    

We did a huge shop – again – and this time the van wasn’t available so we cabbed it back.   We have lots of beer, wine, rum, vodka and Baileys on board now plus months of food supplies.   Was absolutely worn out by the time we had unpacked and stowed it all…so took ourselves off to the hot tub to bob.   We were joined by Charlie and Saundra and enjoyed relaxing.   Later on we enjoyed a lovely steak and salad dinner washed down by a few more cold ones.     

This morning, Thursday, and we headed to the cruisers lounge early to catch up on a few things – not least sending pdfs of our documentation to the Agent in the Galapagos in preparation for our Autografo.   A yoga class was underway so again we had to sneak behind the bookcases LOL.    We are confirmed to go through the canal again on another boat on Friday so will be interesting to see how that transit goes.   Tonight Charlie and Saundra are coming over for fish tacos – we are going to cook up some of Richard’s mahi mahi – so looking forward to that.

Bye for now


Preparations in Panama

Thursday morning and the authorities turned up to measure Morphie for her Canal transit.   They spent about 20 minutes on board and declared her officially to be 43.3 feet long in total (as they include the dinghy on the arch in their calculation).  That’s fine as there is a set transit price providing the boat is less than 50 feet.  They took off to visit another boat while we got all our paperwork together…then we met the officials in the restaurant later on.   We filled in more forms and answered lots more questions and, finally, after about 45 minutes we were given our Panama Canal official number which is valid for Morphie’s lifetime.    

Back on board we turned the boat around.   Morphie originally had her stern to the wind and we needed to get our main sail off – so Richard calmly reversed out, turned us around, and reversed back in.  Great job!    Oh yes…and spot her brand new Ensign flying proudly.

Back in the slip we took the main off, removed the batons, and delivered it to the sail loft.   April and Cain run the sail loft here and, coincidentally, we had met them previously in both Grenada and Union Island.   It was nice to catch up with them again.    We dropped off the sail – they promised to turn it around quickly – and we took ourselves off to bob in the Jacuzzi. 

We endured a round of Marco Polo by the teenagers playing – this is the most annoying game in the whole damn world – and finally they moved on as the cruisers moved in for their water aerobics session.  This was all from the privacy of the hot tub – which isn’t very hot or very bubbly – whist drinking cold beers.   Was a great way to spend a few hours LOL.

Thursday night we went to the cruisers lounge to listen to a talk by a doctor giving advice on medical issues at sea and recommendations for our first aid kit.   It was pretty interesting and quite well attended.  

Later on, back on board, and the wind picked up…which meant that the furling apparatus inside the mast, not being restricted by a sail wrapped around it, started banging like crazy.  It is a horrendous sound and we (and our neighbours) had to endure it all night….   Not good!!!   But it was a beautiful moonlit night.

Friday morning we were up very early and caught the marina’s complimentary shopping bus into town.   The bus went through the canal area and got caught up in traffic jams caused by huge cargo ships – not sure I’ll ever get used to the sight of ships across the road!    We arrived early at the ‘mall’ which was really just a parade of shops and they hadn’t all opened yet.   We wandered around and I found a hairdresser – badly in need of a cut I went mad and had my hair cut very short.   The lady was lovely and even trimmed my eyebrows for me – all for $25.  Felt like quite a treat.  Then we went to the department store and I managed to buy a watch for $23 to replace my other cheap one that had broken this season.   After that we headed to the Rey Supermarket.

Rey offer a free van ride back to the marina providing you spend over $300 so we arranged this before we did our shopping.   Huge supermarket and we were able to get most things on our list.   An hour and a half later we were laden down, considerably poorer, and we got into the van.    This was not the most comfortable ride but I enjoyed the Untouchables DVD in Spanish as we waited in traffic. 

We travelled back using the ferry and we missed the first one so sat for quite a while at the front of the queue admiring the huge bridge being constructed and watched the ships going by.  

Finally it was our turn and we drove on board….sat at the front…and took off across the Canal.  Thoroughly enjoyed it! 

The rest of the afternoon was spent unloading our goodies, finding places to store it all, and packing the freezer up.    Our sail was ready for collection but the 20+ knots of breeze meant that we weren’t able to hoist it on safely…so we apologised to our neighbours in advance of another noisy night on the dock.  They were mostly pretty good about it to be fair.   Later on, feeling pretty jaded, we headed to the bar for happy hour and caught up with Charlie and Saundra who had arrived on Island Sol that morning.  John is still travelling with them but he is staying away from us thankfully.

Saturday morning and we put out a request for help on the cruisers net – we wanted to get that sail back on and there was no sign of the wind abating.  So with assistance from another UK boat we managed to get it hoisted and furled way.   Glad that was done…the noise was driving us crazy!!

We then knuckled down to more boat jobs:  fixing the macerator leak;  reattaching the handles on dink;  more engine checks;  identified a small leak in the cutlass bearing which will have to be replaced in New Zealand but not an issue for this season;  did a transmission oil check; and cleared the back cabin in readiness for our line handlers who will need somewhere to sleep during our transit.

Our agent Erick came by….sorted out more paperwork and we scheduled our transit for Saturday 25 February.   And we paid our fees which were almost $1500 in total, but it does include our Zarpe too.    Oh yes…in the meantime, we had replied to a couple of requests for line handlers…and actually got accepted on two yachts woo hoo!!!!   

The line handlers here charge $100 per person so most cruisers use others who are looking for the experience on an expenses-paid basis only.  So the first transit we are doing – as line handlers – is Monday on a US-flagged 49ft Irwin called Wandering Star.  

So Richard gets out of treating me to a Valentine’s Day dinner as we’ll be on our way back from the Pacific Coast on Tuesday night…..never mind.    It is all very exciting – we are thoroughly looking forward to the experience.

Saturday night we went to the bar for happy hour – treating Chris who assisted us hoisting the sail to a few beers.   He was a professional mountain climber / guide before he retired and sailed across the pond to the Caribbean.   Interesting people you meet in this life or what?!?   We ended up staying for the Open Mic night and listened to a variety of music which was all very social and jolly.

Sunday morning we spent in the cruisers lounge catching up on some internet jobs having eaten breakfast in the restaurant first as a treat.   The Christian Union were having a meeting so we hid behind the bookcases and tried not to make a noise, especially when they started prayers and singing hymns.   Soon they had left and we were able to talk again…..  

The main task was to check our KAP files were all working OK on OpenCPN for the trip to the Galapagos and beyond.   Tick….    We then downloaded the Galapagos rules and researched an Agent.  We found one – who speaks very little English – but he is highly recommended by other cruisers so we sent him an e-mail.   Tick….  Without a local agent the port captain can let you stay at his own discretion for a period of up to 21 days – but there is no guarantee and those without agents get moved on if the anchorage becomes too crowded – despite paying over $1k to be there.   We really don’t want to miss out on these iconic islands so we’re just chucking money at it again…sigh….but at least the future long passages means we won’t be spending much cash going forward LOL.

In the afternoon we had a little bob in the hot tub with Charlie and Saundra before rushing back to Morphie to prepare food to take to the Cruisers Palapa for BBQ and potluck night.    We had planned an early night but got caught up in conversation with some other British cruisers and, before you know it, it was almost 11pm!    And I forgot the camera….

This morning, Monday, and we’re up early.   I’m blogging and then we are going to pack our bag for our transit this afternoon and just relax and chill waiting for the radio call to tell us what time we need to go to Wandering Star.   Tonight, providing the transit doesn’t get delayed, we should spend on anchor in Gatun Lake….    What fun!

Bye for now


Providencia (Columbia) to Panama

Friday morning we returned to Mr Bush with the passports and were told to come back at five for our Zarpe (exit documentation).   We wandered around and spent the remainder of our Colombian Pesos on exciting stuff like bread and diet Pepsi.   The last few quid were donated to the guy who sits on the pavement each day begging for money for medical supplies to dress his wounds – despite us not giving him anything he has been a friendly face wanting to chat each day – so we gave him everything that we had left.   We also chatted to a mum with her new puppy.   Boat puppy material????

Mission accomplished we went back to Morphie and did our final pre-passage checks and a bit of passage cooking before returning to Mr Bush’s office yet again.   This time the official was late so we sat and waited on his balcony. 

Mr Bush told us how the whole country was being ruined by corruption…and how all English people are rich.   We didn’t challenge his view of the world but thought it quite ironic that the one guy who doesn’t advertise a price for his services was the one making this point.   He was pretty vague about pricing when challenged too…clearly the price we got charged reflected our nationality.   

Eventually, about an hour later, we had the important piece of paper in our hands and were good to go.  We shook hands, headed off back to Morphie in dink, and had a quiet evening in the cockpit watching the supply ship at anchor which supplied the barge which is towed into the town dock each night to be unloaded.   They were moving huge amounts of building materials for their ongoing roadwork programme.

Saturday morning by 8.15 we had lifted our anchor and said our goodbyes to Island Sol on the radio.    We had enjoyed our time here but were keen to get moving.   We headed out of the channel into 17 knots of breeze and pulled out the sails.    We started off with one reef in the genoa and one in the main and the wind filled in to 25 knots as we got further out. We were going along nicely in the swelly conditions with the odd rogue wave hitting us for six.    It was turning into a bit of a rolly ride and by 1pm we had scattered showers and squalls too.   Suddenly at 2pm the wind strengthened again and it changed direction so that we were now beating rather than enjoying a reach.  Oh well…never mind…Morphie was just loving it.   

At 5pm we came off the wind 15 degrees to flatten the boat for dinner as we continued to be beaten up by rogue waves.   The weather pattern in this part of the world often means that the wind strengthens during the night so we reefed down further as we went into our night shift and we passed San Andres to starboard.   During the night a small bird came by and took refuge on our solar panels for a while – I thought he was going to die up there – but after about an hour he took off again.  At 9pm the wind had died down and we put our engines on to charge our batteries and hardened up on the main.   Come 10pm I’m dodging underwater mountains off the edge of a huge dangerous reef system and the wind started filling in so by 11 pm the engine was off and we’re climbing back up to the rhumb line with the wind shift.   The bilge pump decided to play up so we started pumping the bilge manually every time we did our hourly log.

By 3am on Sunday the wind had eased back to 19 knots so we let out the genoa and hardened up the main to increase our speed.  Again the wind was gusting to 25 knots but as we were now on a broad reach this was just plain fun….despite the waves.  Not a bad sunrise either.

At 9am on Sunday the seas started to flatten.  As we headed towards Panama we were on schedule – based on 5 knots of speed over the ground – and we started to see some ship traffic.    Was a pretty uneventful day until four when Richard had to change direction to allow Rickmeers Malaysia to cross our bow.  By eight in the evening I had three ships keeping me company on the AIS but couldn’t get a visual on them in the gloomy conditions.   And, of course, at this point the AIS started to play up and we lost our satellite connection.   Great!   Never mind we have eyes…and we managed to reconnect to the satellites…and were excited at 3am on Monday when the wind shifted to the north.   A downwind leg…woo hoo….   Morphie loves sailing downwind on just her genoa so the main was put away and we continued towards Panama.

We had a few more ship encounters but this time they changed course for us – BBC Canada did it without asking although we had to request Xpress Tajumulco to move.   At 15 miles to the waypoint off the Panama Canal breakwater the AIS was absolutely frightening with the amount of ships that were there….many of them were at anchor and some were heading with us towards the Canal and others continued their journey having completed the transit.   

By 11am we were heading towards the ship anchorage and we had been given permission by the controlling authorities to call again when a mile away….so we sailed through. They look horrendously close on the AIS but, in reality, they were pretty well spaced so we kept on sailing until we had to call the authorities again and we put the sails away.

By 12 noon we were four miles off our waypoint and about an hour behind our planned schedule.  

We got permission to go straight through as we approached the breakwater and we went in as a huge ship went out the other side of the channel, whilst we bid farewell to the Caribbean Sea…..  

We then turned immediately to starboard and made our way along the breakwater and through the inside ship anchorage (for dangerous cargoes apparently) until we got to Shelter Bay marina.  

We were secure on our slip by just before 2pm.   Was another successful 265 mile passage in the bag.

We got ourselves signed into the marina and organised a Ship’s Agent through the recommendation of the office.   We need an Agent for our transit through the canal and apparently Erick can help us with the checking in process too.   The guy was contacted…he sent us an email…and within an hour he was hired and we had made arrangements for him to come by the boat on Tuesday to take us to Colon.

We washed Morphie down…we cleaned ourselves up….and we proceeded to drink and celebrate in the cockpit before having an early night and a great sleep.   We were very excited to have reached Panama – felt very proud of ourselves LOL.

Tuesday morning and we got all the photocopies needed for the various officials together and Erick picked us up.  We had also emailed him all the information he needs for our transit so that he can go ahead and organise for Morphie to be measured.  We drove out of the marina – through heavily armed security guards – and along a paved road through the jungle.  We then came to a traffic jam and we were astonished to see ships passing ahead!   

OMG we are going to go across the canal in the car.   Then we carried on through the security checkpoints etc and ended up crossing the next (new) canal.   The ships are huge, the locks are massive, the gates are enormous…..will be an experience in Morphie that’s for sure!

On the way to Colon, Erick explained that the town was a slum and that it was not safe for us to walk anywhere.  We had read this but were surprised by how vehemently he told us to be careful.  So very grateful for a lift from someone who knows what he is doing – we stopped first at the Port Captain’s office.  

We had lots of paperwork already put together by Erick and all we had to do was pass it over.  Erick continued on to Panama City and left us with a trusted taxi driver.  Well….the port captain was out on a commercial vessel…so we had to wait…and wait…and wait.     Erick phones the taxi driver to check everything is OK and he chases the Port Captain and tells us not to pay overtime to the immigration official if we arrive after 3pm as he will sort it.    We were very grateful for this hand holding.   Eventually the Port Captain arrived and stamped our paperwork…and we moved on to immigration. 

The drive took us through the centre of Colon and we were shocked – it really is a dilapidated slum with broken down buildings and rubbish strewn everywhere.   We saw kids picking through the rubbish too….   Glad we were in a taxi with blacked-out windows!    We made it to immigration – before the 3pm overtime deadline – and that was us done for the day.

We headed back to Shelter Bay and wandered around the marina for a little while….  The facilities here are very good with a great cruisers lounge / TV / internet, a restaurant, a bar, a jacuzzi and a pool.   We also found the minimarket and the laundry.    We had a bite to eat in the restaurant and then went back to Morphie for a few hours.  We got cleaned up and headed back to the bar for happy hour before having another early night as we were pretty shattered from our day out.

This morning, Wednesday, and we got an email from Erick to say that the official to measure the boat wasn’t free today but he’d let us know again tomorrow.    Great communications – this guy is good!    He is also going to collect more paperwork from us tomorrow so that he can organise our cruising permit and visas.   So very glad we don’t have to sort all this out ourselves.    

After breakfast we sat down and talked through our provisioning – we want to have at least four months supplies on board when we leave here – so we worked out menus and I wrote lists of ingredients…plus basics of course like chocolate and crisps!     Then we checked off what we had already on board and made a shopping list.    The marina offers a complimentary daily service into a safe shopping mall in Colon which has a good supermarket – so we are keen to take advantage of that once we have a date in the diary for our measurement process.

I took myself off to blog in the cruisers lounge – via the laundry – while Richard cleaned the boat down below.     We have a few jobs we want to do on Morphie still before we transit so will be busy beavering away at lists again – but am hoping to get in that pool some day soon! 

Bye for now


Exploring Providencia

Saturday afternoon we wandered around the town and Richard managed to seek out three hardware stores, but only managed to buy something in two of them LOL.    It was surprisingly busy as a ferry had just come in from San Andres.

We want to explore this mountainous island so decided to rent a Kawasaki mule for the Sunday.   All done we had a couple of beers in the local bar – which actually means sitting on plastic chairs on the pavement watching the world go by – and chatted to Russell a cruiser from Boston who spends much of the year here.   We enjoyed watching the kids pulling wheelies on their bikes and check out this photo – two kids / two bikes / three wheels only!!!  

Providencia belongs to Colombia despite its location alongside Nicaragua and midway between Costa Rica and Jamaica in the Caribbean sea.   The peak is 360m above sea level with the interior covered by lush vegetation with the small (6k) population living largely along the coastline.   We are anchored in front of the town dock with Santa Catalina off to our port.    Santa Catalina is linked to the mainland by a lovers bridge.

Providencia was the site of an English Puritan colony established in 1629 by the Providence Island Company.  The pirate Henry Morgan used the island as a base for raiding the Spanish empire and rumours suggest that much of his treasure remains hidden on the island.   Many parts of the island are named after Morgan and forts and cannons dating back hundreds of years can be found scattered all over Santa Catalina Island.  Despite its Columbian ownership the inhabitants largely speak English or Creole rather than Spanish – and there are many Rastafarians here.   The locals are certainly very friendly and it feels much more Caribbean than South American.

Sunday morning we took off in our mule and drove around the island following the only main coast road.    

At the bottom of the island we came across South West Beach and liked the vibe here…lots of local beach bars and loud music.  Behind the shack called Wild Girl we found a bamboo construction where two guys were cooking over open fires – they showed us their local speciality soups and iguana and we said we would be back for some later.  Not sure they believed us LOL.  

We continued admiring the various sights and the lovely scenery – especially Morgan’s Arse. We’ll leave you to decide why they call it that!   

We enjoyed listening to the wonderful singing coming from the many churches as we passed them on the road.   Some of the people live in very poor conditions compared to other quite modern and large properties.  And the colours of the sea have to be seen to be believed!    Oh yes and we spotted this iguana having a rest.

After our circumnavigation of this island – 4 miles long by 2 1/2 miles at its widest – which only took a couple of hours we returned to South West Beach and parked our mule on the sand just behind Wild Girl.  

We took a couple of seats in the shade – much to the surprise of all the locals eating there – and ordered the mixed meat soup which included pig tails, cow feet and cow shins, plaintain, yams, onions, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes etc etc etc.   Well…the food was absolutely fantastic!   The cook – who doubles up as a hospital maintenance man for his real job – was delighted we had come back and spent some time chatting with us.   Definitely a family affair as his wife, daughters and grandchildren were there too.   

Having eaten our fill we went into the water for a bobbing session.  It was lovely and we were joined by all the local children who seemed to find us very entertaining.   Eventually the kids got a bit too boisterous for us so we retired to our table, paid up and wandered further down the beach towards the headland.

We spotted a few other places along the way – largely inhabited by tourists – and ended up at Richard’s Place.  Richard, a Rasta man and his Colombian wife, made us very welcome.   We also tried a new Colombian beer and this is our favourite so far.  

We had a lovely time chilling out and then John turned up.  Of all the beaches on this island he had to find ours LOL.    Never mind, he only stayed about 15 minutes before he left to try the highly-recommended local soup at Wild Girl.   We carried on chilling and enjoying the vibe of this place before returning to our mule.

On the way back we decided we couldn’t be bothered to cook any dinner – so ended up stopping off at the fried chicken shop for a takeaway.   At the dinghy dock John wanted to cadge a ride back to Island Sol as Charlie and Saundra had left before him – we decided to be nice and did actually give him a lift.     Doesn’t Morphie look lovely in the sunset?

Back to Morphie we devoured our chicken, had a few more cold ones, and then had an early night.   We had had a perfect Sunday.

Monday morning we were up very early.   The mule had to be returned by 10.30 am so we took five 5gl diesel jugs ashore along with three petrol cans.    We drove to the island’s only petrol station – topped up the mule – and filled up on fuel for Morphie.   Back on board we got busy.   Richard Mclubed the genoa car tracks and the main sheet traveller;  and serviced two winches.   They are all running much smoother now.   In the meantime I did laundry, we ran the generator and made water.

Later in the afternoon we went ashore to Mr Bush to collect our tourist visas before going over to Santa Catalina island expecting the SeaShore bar to be open.  Well…it wasn’t…..and we waited…and waited…and waited.  Eventually a local guy decided they weren’t coming after all – despite telling us earlier that it would be open – and we took ourselves off into town.   We sat on the pavement drinking cold beer talking to Russell and his Colombian wife who had flown in that day.  The anchorage was moody looking in the dull weather.  

The rain came down hard, it was getting cold and the wind was howling.  Waiting for a lull in the weather to head back out all of a sudden two locals shouted at Russell that he had to leave as a boat had dragged into his.   We all jumped into our boats and went to see what had happened.  Two local lads jumped on board and started to get the boats untangled…we offered to help but some more locals came out with big boats to pull the unoccupied dragged boat into a new position so we were superfluous to requirements and returned to Morphie for an early night once all the drama had finished.

Tuesday morning more boat jobs…..Richard fixed a dinghy ratchet that had broken;  took a few turns off the genoa furler and rethreaded it;  and cleaned the engine compartment.  I did some more laundry and scrubbed the heads.   Lunchtime we went into town to fix up a taxi for Wednesday – Saundra’s birthday – as we are planning to go back to South West Beach as they haven’t been there yet.   Job sorted we had some lunch out, got some drinking vouchers from the ATM, and some fresh bread from the supermarket.

Later in the afternoon we headed ashore to Santa Catalina and parked dink up at the dock and went for a stroll.   We walked along the concrete walkway that borders the island and came across another local bar and restaurant.   We continued to the end until we came across steps going up and over the hill – wasn’t sure my leg was up to it – so we returned to dink, admiring the baby eagle ray in the shallow water and the view of the anchorage.

Back in dink we headed off to Morgan’s Head.   This is a lovely bit of coastline with lots of rocks beneath the surface, beautiful palm trees, and this great rock head.   

We spotted a beach shack nestled into a small beach so made an impromptu stop – joined later by Charlie and Saundra so we had a fun afternoon bobbing session. Back to Morphie we sat in the dark in the cockpit having dinner with a few more beers and some tunes.

Wednesday morning we were awoken early by the wind and the rain howling….but it calmed down later.    I sorted out photos and videos while Richard snorkelled the anchor again.   We went ashore at one and met Charlie and Saundra at the dinghy dock – we picked up our taxi (which was running on island time) and headed down the coast.    We arrived at South West Beach but, unfortunately Richard’s place wasn’t open, so we went here instead.  

Never mind…we had a shrimp (and conch for Charlie and Saundra) starter…and a few beers before we went bobbing.   Later on we spotted people at Richard’s Place – which sits out on the point between the two half-moon bays – and wandered back down.   We had a few more beers and even a cocktail to celebrate Saundra’s birthday before heading back to the taxi.  Well…he wasn’t there….  We called him and, finally, almost an hour late he picked us up.

Back to Morphie who was silhouetted by a lovely sunset again.  

This morning (Thursday) we got up at a reasonable time and headed in to see Mr Bush.  We have decided to leave Providencia on Saturday morning.  This is about a 300 mile passage to Panama and we are aiming for a Monday lunchtime arrival at Shelter Bay Marina.  This is where we will stage in preparation for our Canal transit. 

So we need to get the paperwork in order.   First part done – we have to return with our passports tomorrow (Friday) – then we did some more shopping (including another hardware store!) and came back to Morphie with supplies.

The wind conditions look perfect although the forecast two to three metre swells might be a bit bothersome.   Never mind…we can’t have it all!   It’s a shame that we won’t get a chance to visit San Andres, Providencia’s touristy sister to the south of us, but time is getting away and we need to get to Panama.   We have emailed Shelter Bay for a reservation but nothing heard yet – may have to chase them up tomorrow.  Near the marina there really isn’t anywhere to anchor so I want to make sure we have a slot – although with 36 World Arc boats leaving imminently they should have a vacancy right now!  

Bye for now