Wednesday, May 12, 2010

So I´ve managed to find an internet cafe where I can wind out a new post and listen to some music that I neglected to download and put on my ipod before I left for this trip. Anyways, major updates to be had. About a week ago I was offered a position as crew on a 50ft sailing yacht owned by a retired Alaskan couple going west to French Polynesia via the Galapagos Islands. Naturally, I accepted and we´re now finishing up preparations for the crossing this week.

A little over a week ago I took the bus from Panama City to Colon, then caught a cab out to Shelter Bay Marina where I met Chris and Louise while they were docked and waiting for their turn to transit the canal. Their original crew ended up backing out last minute so they we´re forced to take on new crew, and I was simply at the right place at the right time. I joined them a few days before the canal transit in order to get accustomed to the boat and take care of some last minute issues like scraping of the hull barnacles, etc.

For the canal transit, we hired two Panamanian linehandlers to help us and the other two boats that we were rafted with. At around noon, we motored to an area near the mouth of the canal call the ¨flats.¨ We waited there for a few hours until our pilot, the fellow who guides us through the canal, showed up and got us on our way. It´s fairly exciting to transit the canal because small boats are very low priority and therefor have to sneak into opening in the queue, and most importantly not hold up the large boats behind us once transiting. Because of the rushed nature of transiting the canal as a small boat, the canal authority usually arranges crossings so that three small boats will transit together. This means that the the small yachts transiting must raft together (tie the boats together) and navigate the locks as a single unit. Which is fun because this rafting must occure while travelling at the yacht´s maximum speed, again, so we don´t hold up the line. Professional line handlers made this circus alot more managable and there was a minimum if any paint traded during the transit thanks to their help.

Once inside, the locks themselve fill up surpisingly quickly and you can see strong currents in the water that push the boats around significantly. You definitely do not want to fall in. Once we transited the locks, we motored to a moorage in Gatun Lake where we spent the night. Enroute, we passed the massive expansion excavation which was quite impressive. We didn´t get any pictures of it because it was dark but I´m sure there are some on the internet. Transiting the Pedro Miguel/Miraflores Locks was the same deal as the first except going downwards. The only event of note is when one of the line handlers on the aft port side of the port yacht got their line tangled in the cleat, causing our three boats to rotate towards the wall. This accompanied by the starboard yacht linehandlers (not paying attention) not cleating their line almost resulted in the port yacht having its bow sprit broken off. In the end, the Panamanian line handlers saved the day and got everyone through safely and damage free. The transit was very interesting and could almost merit an entire post itself but because of time constraints I need to keep things shorter than I would like.

At the moment, we are moored at Balboa Yacht Club awaiting the delivery of our new dingy motor. Most of the provisioning is done and the boat is almost ready to go so these posts may become very sporadic after the 19th or 20th when we leave. Will post some pictures and possibly video before we leave if everything I´m able to.

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