Friday, March 11, 2011

From Sea to Sea

Its been a long time since we've updated this blog.  We've been pretty busy with visiting friends and family and getting the boat ready for 8 months across the South Pacific.  So now that we are getting ready to leave Panama for the Galapagos and points south and west, here is a bit of a catch-up.

We left Bocas mid-October, headed for Shelter Bay Marina, via the Escudos de Veraguas, a group of islands with fascinating topography. Little cupcake islands sprouting out of the water and twisting channels and chasms under limestome cliffs.  The same thing underwater made for some interesting snorkeling. Lots of invasive lionfish again - Derek managed to reduce the local populatoin significantly, if temporarily.  Also speared a small barracuda which fried up nicely! 
Couldn't resist....

You know what they say about people looking like their pets...?

Some pretty active squalls with major lightning as we approached Colon.  Best to dodge these ones.

Here is a picture of our radar screen showing us escaping from our anchorage (lower center) and scooting out between two nasty squalls.

Much more peaceful up the Chagres River where we spent 4 days relaxing, exploring and resting up before hauling the boat out at Shelter Bay and tackling the large list of jobs necessary before heading into the South Pacific. The Chagres river was dammed to create the Gatun Lake which supplies the immense amount of water for the Panama Canal.  About 180,000,000 gal of water flow out of the lake with each group of vessels (one lock full) passing through the canal's six locks.  The Chagras is navigable for about 10 miles below the dam.

A peaceful evening on the river.

We paddled up several of the side channels of the Chagres looking for wildlife.  Despite rumours of monkeys, crocodiles, toucans, and even jaguars, we didn't see anything other than flocks of rowdy parrots and a few lizards sunning themselves.

Finally, some wildlife!  The dock crew at Shelter bay Marina - on Halloween.  We scrambled around and created costumes for ourselves in time to join the party two hours after our arrival.  Cathy went as Neptuna and I was a Mola mola (Pacific sunfish, represented by a mola stapled to my shirt front and back).  Something got lost in translation and Cathy was referred to as "Queen of the Tuna", and I was Mola Man. Luckily we don't have any pictures to remind us!

Out she comes!  Now the work starts.  Was supposed to be 7-10 days.  A few unexpected problems cropped up (surprise), like worn bearings in the saildrives needing parts to be flown in from Miami, delays to the painting schedule due to torrential rain etc....   3 weeks later we were finally done, in all respects.

This is the seal that goes around the saildrive leg and keeps the ocean out of the boat.  We knew it was leaking a bit and it was the reason that our haul out was mandatory.  But we didn't realize how badly the rubber had disintegrated.  The engine manufacturer, Yanmar, say to replace every 2-3 years.  On the internet, there are all sorts of comments that you can let it go for 7 years, maybe even 10.  I think we're going to follow the manufacturers recommendations on this from now on....

Our friends Jim and Linda from Victoria.  This is a shot of them on one of the two sunny days they had during the two weeks they were with us.  They arrived in Panama to find the country in a state of disaster due to horrendous rain storms; there were multiple deaths due to slides and flooding and the canal was shut down for only the second time since it opened in 1914. All the roads in and out of Panama City were washed out and we were in Shelter Bay on the other side of the isthmus. The plan had been to sail to San Blas and meet them there. But no one was going anywhere - except by helicopter.  Our cruising friends Randy and Lynn of High States, had wound up in a situation where Lynn was stuck in a hotel in Colon, and unable to get back to Randy on the boat at Shelter Bay as the roads were out and no estimate of when they would be repaired. So they decided to hire a chopper and since it had to fly from Panama City anyway and Jim and Linda were stuck there....  So a dramatic start to Jim and Linda's tropical vacation. 

Jim and Linda trying to be tropical.  At least it wasn't raining when this picture was taken!  We finally got to the San Blas islands, sailing through 30 knot squalls and 12' seas, a bit of a rough introduction to the cruising lifestyle - especially for non-sailors.  But they seemed to enjoy the adventure!

Had to visit the monkeys at Linton. They liked the grapes we offered them better than the apples last year.

Back at Shelter Bay ready for our transit of the Panama Canal - and Christmas!   Had a Christmas Party dinner at the Marina restaurant, sponsored by the marina and supplemented with goodies from the cruisers.  A good time, even if we didn't win the Christmas light contest....  Note the plastic covered tires hanging from the rail prior to our transit of the Canal.

Getting the lines ready as we head towards the entrance to the Panama Canal.  We have taped pieces of foam and surfboards and any padding we can fins to the hatches, windows and solar panels so that when the "monkey fists" (lead weights knotted into thin rope covers) are thrown down to us in the locks, they don't break anything.

Heading into the first lock behind a cargo ship.  Cathy's delicate hand on the engine controls as we maneuver ourselves and the 50' monohull were rafted with into the chamber.

The canal operators refused to allow us to tie "centre chamber", as contractually agreed, and insisted we and the boat we were rafted to, tie alongside a tugboat.  This eliminates our control and subjects us to far more turbulence, plus they were impatient , so opened both sets of culverts to double the volume of water flowing into the lock.  The boiling water pushed us around incredibly, stretching our 3/4" lines to 50% greater than their originals length. At one point our starboard transom was less than a foot from the concrete wall of the lock.  Thanks to Cathy's excellent driving, we came through unscathed!

Relaxing after the ordeal.  Tristan had flown in from Victoria to join us (with 3 hours to spare) for the transit and to spend Christmas with us. Great to have him along for the adventure!

After spending the night on a mooring in the lake, we were joined by our favourite canal advisor, Elvir, whom we had met the previous year when we went through as crew on a friend's boat. When we called Elvir ahead of time and told him we were taking our own boat through, he arranged his schedule to be with us. It was great to see him again!

Early morning (6:30) after a peaceful night spent on Gatun Lake - in the middle of Panama's continental divide, midway between two oceans and two continents, at 80' above sea level in a sailboat!  Pretty amazing!

Making our way through the muddy brown water, dodging the larger mats of vegetation that had been washed down from the surrounding hills by all the flooding of the previous 2 weeks.

Three amigos.  Derek first met Jim back in Grade 2 on Saltspring Island.

Tristan tending one of our lines as we lock down to the Pacific side.  Its critical to maintain the right tension on the lines so that we stay in the middle of the lock and don't crash into the walls or pull a cleat out of the boat (it has happened).

The gallant crew who shepherded Idyll Island safely from the Caribbean to the Pacific.

Back in our home ocean. Bridge of the Americas ahead of us.

Idyll Island anchored off Panama City.  Another ocean awaits!