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Nereida transits the Panama Canal - 4th/5th June 2008

We're in the Pacific once more!!
I feel as though I'm about to start a new adventure, rather than finishing an 'old' one..... with trying to get up to San Francisco for the start of the SHTP08, against the odds. As I pass the latitude of Mexico, I will be waving in the direction of Zihuatanejo as I 'tie the knot' on my present solo circumnavigation, having tied it near Trinidad for my non-solo one.

The Canal Transit went very well after a day of stress leading up to leaving, due to the Windpilot repair not being ready and back on the boat until an hour or so before I was due to leave my berth!! (Karl and Kirk kindly stopped off to help with adjusting the supports so that it is now ready for use again.) Lines were organized on board and my bill paid, Internet wi-fi access suddenly proved impossible (more computer problems!!) so I used a computer on board nearby 'Annamarina' courtesy Skip.. I made a dash into town with the help of a friendly taxi-driver to buy another serial/USB adapter, did some laundry, tied cushions and pillows in plastic bags over the solar panels to protect them from possible badly-aimed 'monkey fists', tied more tyres in place - five in total on each side, my line-handlers from 'Mandarin' turned up: Keith, Tim & Bernd, hot food was collected (Chow Mein noodles for dinner from the restaurant, with enough for the Advisor also), a quick last shower and off we went to the 'Flats' to raft up to 'Salsa' - so that Kirk, my fourth line-handler, could step on board and also avoiding anchoring in the fine mud. We ate as darkness fell, while we waited for the Pilot Boat to arrive with our Transit Advisor.

I had spent quite a bit of time clearing four berths the previous day, while a friendly Kuna guy cleaned the hull and propeller, and had put some sails on deck (the trysail has been hanked on ready, just in case of need) I also had to provide plenty of food and drink for my helpers, so the boat was not exactly in passage-making mode!

The Advisor arrived after 7pm and we immediately left at speed, trying to make an early Locking-in - but we missed it & so slowed down and circled around with 'Odyssey' the second boat going through with us, while the third boat, a big motor yacht, went on through ahead of us. The two sailing yachts ended up rafting to each other near the Lock entrance and moving into the Lock together each time. There are three locks up and three down, with enormous, strong gates and very high walls seen on entering, when the water was low in the Lock. It didn't seem to take long at all for the locks to fill with a vast amount of water after we had received thin lines from the shore line-handlers who threw them with a 'monkey-fist' initially & then pulled our thick lines up to the wall tops to attach them to big bollards while we made tight onto cleats at our end. It was important to maintain tension on the lines as we rose up with the locks filling with Rio Chagres water. We were only going up as far as Lake Gatun where we'd sleep overnight. At the lake, we tied up to one of two enormous red rubber buoys, sat chatting on deck for a bit under a starry sky and then turned in - to be awoken by a heavy rainstorm in the night.

Next morning, while Tim & Bernd enjoyed a swim in the fresh water of the lake, I withdrew the log/speed impellor (a paddle wheel) since we had had no log all the way from the marina to the lake - I wanted it working when I took off on passage later. It was completely coated in a thick calcareous growth & took quite a bit of effort to clean - no wonder it hadn't wanted to turn! While we waited for the new Advisor to arrive (he was far later than the 6.15 a.m. we had been told to expect), we had breakfast: gtrapefruit juice, fresh melon, scrambled eggs, muffins and/or doughnuts and coffee. Because he was so late, we had to try to keep up a speed of 7 knots across the lake to try to make a 12.20 'lock-in' 28mls away. It's a beautiful area and the sun was out, so we all enjoyed the journey through the 'Banana Cut' and on, with kingfishers darting about, cormorants on the buoys nearby and lots of unspoilt greenery on the many islands everywhere. The water-level is quite low still, since the rainy season has only just begun, so we could see the remains of drowned trees all around the channels. Just before the Pedro Miguel Lock was the area dredging & dynamiting of the Canal & its sides where they are widening the Canal to allow the passage of the larger modern ships. We didn't spot any alligators, although they are around.... a fisherman was taken by one just a month ago.

This time, we ended up with a sturdy tug ('Morrow) 'side-tied' to the lock wall, 'Odyssey' tied alongside it and 'Nereida' tied to 'Odyssey' with our starboard side clear. Each time we moved to the next lock, we had to let the lines go and motor independently and then tie up again.

In the main Miraflores Lock, we seemed to spend a long time & both boats waved madly at the live camera/webcam high above the Visitor Centre whilst phoning various friends & family. On letting go our lines to move on, we ended up touching the wall..... the lines were let go too soon, to my mind, with a wind blowing onto our port side after heavy rain and our astern gear having a starboard kick ..... so things got a bit exciting for a time - but all ended OK with all five tyres on our starboard side protecting us - no damage but the incident kept our entire crew & Advisor busy!! The time now was just after 1.30p.m. local time (1930 BST/ 1130 PDT). On to the final lock... and then on to the Pacific side with the Bridge of the Americas not far away, where the Advisor was picked up by the Pilot Boat and bid us farewell.

I'm now sitting off a buoy at Balboa overnight, after refuelling, and with 'free' 'wi-fi' Internet acess from the Y.C. The heavy rain over the afternoon made everything VERY WET so it took me quite a time, after landing crew, tyres and lines, to remove the protective plastic-covered cushions and pillows from on top of the solar panels & try to dry off a bit and then stow things properly, ready for passage after having had five extra bodies on board... four of them having to sleep somewhere!

The plan is to set off tomorrow at first light after a good sleep in my own bunk! Not many boats head north this time of year due to hurricane concerns - but I will be trying to keep a 'sched' with one boat, Annamarina', transiting in about 5-6 days' time, headed also to SF (for 12th July). I've emailed Don Anderson so will be hoping to talk to him soon on SSB for weather info - propagation & my radio system permitting!

Balboa Y.C.


Written by : Mike

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