Sat/Sun 10/11th May 2008 Landfall in Panama...to Portobelo for the night - on to Colon Sunday

Overnight Fri/Sat 9/10th May ... got pretty horrible with lightning and heavy rain almost all night and on past dawn. Not a very comfortable feeling when lightning strikes the sea several times really close by... you're wondering just when you're going to get it!!
The other problem with those conditions is that the radar shows the clouds full of threatening static really clearly - but then you can't see the ships around (of which there were lots, being so close to the Canal) - so that meant I felt doubly insecure - not only likely to be struck by lightning but also likely to have a collision with a ship going fast that also couldn't see me - until, assuming someone was actually using their eyes & looking out, it was right on top of me!! In the end, after a couple of close shaves, I put out a 'Securite' call on VHF just to let them know there was a small sailing yacht around - I gave my position, course and speed... and explained why I was putting out the call... I did that again a few hours later.
The bonus of the heavy rain coming, which made me hurriedly take a reef in with the accompanying strong wind getting up, was that I had an excellent freshwater rinse-off ... even shampooed my hair, since it got so wet anyway! Mainly though, the wind was light and from any direction you care to mention ... so motoring was a necessity. At least the seas gradually lay down...
My expected arrival in Colon by early afternoon didn't look very likely once I saw the really strong foul current we were getting all the time - I'd thought that it was bad enough over Wed/Thurs... but now it increased to 1.9 kn against - and stayed at that until I got close to Portobelo when it diminished a touch.
I knew Portobelo was a very good, beautiful anchorage- a lovely protected bay - if it was good enough for Frances Drake to take shelter in (and later continually plunder the Spanish 'treasure' ships there, destroy their newly-built forts and eventually die there) it was definitely good enough for me to stop in overnight. I would have made Colon in the late afternoon/early evening & that didn't seem to me to be sensible timing. Whereas by stopping in Portobelo in the early afternoon, I could relax before making for Colon early Sunday morning to find out if there was somewhere there to anchor or berth while I did my formal paperwork for clearing in and started to sort out my Canal transit. 

(Later Saturday) It's hot & humid now, with thunder out at sea. After anchoring here, under the old north fort, within sound of lots of birdsong from the trees covering the steep hillside, I promptly went for a dip - and ended up trying to get rid of a lot of Nereida's waterline 'green moustache' !! Not too many goose barnacles seen... I'm feeling good, having freed the windlass (it wouldn't free up to drop the chain under gravity as I prefer to do) and done a couple of other minor jobs. It's so peaceful here - gorgeous!!

Sunday 11th May From Portobelo to Colon

More heavy rain & thunder/lightning overnight again, so didn't rush to get up too early and then had a relaxed, leisurely breakfast sitting out in the cockpit, enjoying my surroundings and the sunshine before heading out to sail to Colon. Enjoyed a beam reach most of the way and then entered through Manzanillo breakwater entrance (East) towards Panama Canal 'Yacht Club' after contacting both Cristobal Signal station & Manzanillo on their respective VHF channels to confirm it was OK to enter Colon Harbour. I counted twenty big ships at anchor outside, waiting to transit the Canal, and thirty yachts at anchor inside. I was hoping to find the fuel dock at the 'Yacht Club' free if no other space available, back up plan being to anchor - but I preferred not to, if possible, because of Clearance & Canal Transit to organize onshore tomorrow. 

As I crawled up the 'French Canal' towards the Y.C., I could see that, as expected, it was full - no space at all - but luckily the fuel dock was free on one side - so that's where I'm staying overnight ($24). Another Najad ('Panacea') is here and they not only helped me in but also said I could raft up alongside them tomorrow and then take their space when they leave within a day or so - perfect!! I've already done my laundry, chatted to several other 'yachties' about the situation here & had a meal in the popular restaurant.

The really good news is that the Canal authorities have finally listened to the complaints of the yachts being kept waiting for so long to transit (and the bad publicity in the sailing magazines) - and they've been pushing yachts through - 15 went overnight on Saturday... Many more yachts have given up waiting and changed their plans - so now the waiting time is enormously reduced from the two months it had become not so long ago - I'll see what I'm told tomorrow when I get to the Admeasurer's Office to start the ball rolling after I've cleared in...

Written by : Mike

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