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