Sunday, August 22, 2010

Panama Canal!

Well, so much has happened since our last post. After my dad left, we jumped headlong into some overdue boat projects. When returning from the Perlas, our roller furling headsail became jammed several times when we needed to bring it in and our single sideband radio was not transmitting. After several trips into town, we located most of the parts and service we needed and stopped at a local firehouse along the way. I met Jose Rodriguez of the Panama City Fire Department and traded several DFD shirts for a Panama City Fire hat and shirt. We became instant amigos and have since had dinner at his place and had him out to the boat for a visit as well. We were planning to take him and his family over to Isla Taboga for a day trip when Brady, the kids and I were offered a trip through the Panama Canal if we served as line handlers in the locks. The boat was a beautiful 65' steel ketch called "White Falcon". Andreas, the captain, needed one more set of hands, so I offered it up to our new friend Jose, who was thrilled at the opportunity to see his country's beautiful canal by boat. We started the trip at 0600 and headed into the first, of two, Miraflores Locks around 9. We held the boat in the middle of the chambers with four lines and could feel the rush of water lifting us from below. After going through the locks, we crossed Miraflores Lake to the final up lock. The Pedro Miguel Locks were the only thing separating us from Gatun Lake and our brief trip to the Caribbean. We traversed 30 miles or so of the freshwater lake and arrived at the 3 Gatun "down locks" around 3 P.M. The story gets a bit interesting at this point. Every sailboat that goes through the canal has an "advisor", or canal employee, on board. Ours failed to mention a few important details on how to tie up alongside a tug boat. We were joined in the locks by a giant container ship behind us and a tug boat next to us. Usually, this is much easier because you only need to manage lines on one side. In our case, we got the bow line to the tug, but could not get the stern line attached before the White Falcon drifted helplessly sideways with no steerage and a lot of cussing. We managed to get the boat into position backwards in the lock and secure for the trip down. A we were lowered, we were informed that the boat still had to turn around before moving into the next chamber. This was also a bit tricky since sailboats do not steer well until they have forward motion and most do not steer at all in reverse. After pushing off the bow and drifting sideways through the locks for a bit, the captain did get the boat turned around and we were once again secured to the tug boat. We opted to leave the lines attached at this point and let the tugboat drag us alongside into the final chamber. We were finally through and without a scratch, despite the small mishap. What lay ahead-the sunny skies and crystal clear water of el caribe? Nope, we never got to the other side of the giant breakwater and headed straight for the Shelter Bay Marina in lots of rain. From here, we got a glimpse of post U.S. control of the Panama Canal and the consequences of our withdrawal on the local community. As sometimes happens when a major military base is removed, the local economy struggles and Colon, Panama is a prime example of this. We were always told that Colon is dangerous, but I did not realize that when the U.S. military base was closed, there was a political power play in Panama City that basically decided to let Colon go, so to speak. What we found was a lawless, grungy and rather scary place. It was a $20 ride from the marina to the city and we were told to pay very inconspicuously to avoid being seen with any money, cameras, phones, anything basically. I asked why and the reply was that if you are seen with any money, there will be an armed robbery. That being said, we did not stick around to see any more of the city and took the direct express bus back to Panama City. The experience was a grand one and today I fixed the headsail, installed a new bowlight, and reattached the radio tuner behind the girls bathroom wall. Hopefully, we are headed to the Perlas in the next few days for some clean water in the islands, snorkeling and R&R. Ta-Ta for now,

Los Vagabundos Medinas