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