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