Panama Canal Transit, An Epic Journey with Time Lapse Video…38

When we landed at Vista Mar Marina after Our TERRORIZING Cruise to Panama, we had a few days to settle in and enjoy Panama before heading to Flamenco Marina, which is near the Panama Canal.

We spent time in Vista Mar Marina because it was a bit cheaper choice for a Marina than the Flamenco Marina which is about double the price at $2.50 a foot, a night. Ouch!  We needed to be in Flamenco Marina to be close to the Panama Canal and do all the prep for our trip. 

 

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Chart with both side of Canal

Our cruise to Flamenco was uneventful, yay! We were happy after our previous journey into Panama.  As we approached the Flamenco marina, which was very close to the canal, we saw a crazy sight. Many large freighters, tankers, etc anchored just outside of the entrance, all waiting their turn to get in. I’m guessing close to a 100 ships. This picture only shows those ships that have AIS (Automatic Identification System) and have it on at the time. The green boat symbol on the chart is us. This scale shows both sides of the canal and those who are already transiting.  It was an amazing sight. 

The magnitude of all the ships is not viewable by any photos. It was just impossible to get pictures of all these ships to show you how massively big they were. The scope and range was just so overwhelming, there are no words to describe it. Plus all the personal pleasure crafts that were anchored around the corner were also waiting their turn.

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Our Friends Ken and Cheryl joined us a couple days after we arrived.  We did a trip to the grocery store after they arrived and we met Maria our Uber driver. We were chatting about the store she was taking us to and she warned us about the area, she said it is not a good area  (we certainly didn’t know). She suggested we go to a different one, “Riba Smith Supermercado” near a very nice mall. We were so glad we did. It was the first foreign store that I had been to, in over a year, that actually looked like a US grocery store. We went crazy. She waited for us and hauled us back to the marina. Maria also took us to a good dinner place that night, “Diablicos” with authentic Panamanian food. img_5437We also went to the Panama Canal Museum and walked around town. We were so very lucky to have her, we would recommend her to anyone… (let us know if you need her contact info) We were also able to watch the Super Bowl in a restaurant near the marina too! We had a good stay in our expensive marina.

Our trip through the Panama Canal started months before, with the preparation we needed to do. We contacted an agent through a referral of another boater. We hired Rogelio De Hoyos from Panama Cruiser Connection” as an agent. (let us know if you want his number too) We had decided that we wanted to pay the extra for his knowledge & experience. He scheduled our transit, did all the paperwork & permits, answered all our questions and helped us understand how and what to do. We also got 4 lines and 8 fenders to use on our yacht for the transit through the canal, included in the cost. Having these saves our lines and fenders from getting filthy dirty and ruined. 1 day after we arrived at Flamenco Marina we had an official from the Canal come to check our boat and measure it. You are charged to go through the canal based on the length of your vessel. We knew it would be expensive because Panama raised the cost of the transit effective January 1st, 2020. You are also required to have 4 people on board to handle lines and fenders. We had Ken, Cheryl and myself. Dan was the Captain and not counted as a line handler. We had planned to have one of Dan’s friends from the Naval Academy aboard, Scott and his wife Lauri. We were really sad that Lauri got sick and they were not able to make the trip. We send both of them our prayers, hoping she gets well soon. Rogelio, our agent, found 1 line handler for us. John img_5556was an experienced line-handler with the canal transit and helped greatly with what we should expect.

Two days before our departure the agent brought the pile of lines and fenders and told us our pilot was to arrive at 3:30 am on our boat. We had planned to pull out of the marina the night before, as we needed to be near the mouth of the canal when the pilot arrived.

“Pilots are required for all boats bigger than 65 feet long”

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The day before our trip…….. our line handler arrived around 6:30 pm and we took off from Flamenco Marina to an anchorage outside the canal. He recommended that we have someone stay awake because if the Panama officials call us on VHF to tell us the pilot would arrive earlier or later, we would need to reply. So Ken took on the hard duty of staying awake until 2 am & then I took over to let him get some sleep. We were notified around 3 am that our pilot would arrive now at 5:45. The Pilot arrived on time by pilot boat and we quickly pulled anchor. We learned we have a numbered slot, where odd numbers are southbound and even number are northbound. We were number 27E, my favorite number… Ask me why.

The Pilot informed us that we were scheduled to go through with 3 other boats, a 100 foot charter boat, a tug and a huge freighter. The tug boat ended up going in an earlier group so now we just had the 2 other boats. Our request was to not be on the wall, to be tied to another boat that was tied to the wall. Which is what we got and we were really happy.

“When you are tied to the wall in a lock, the wall stands still and you move up or down (depending on which way you are going) This requires you to release the lines or pull in the lines as you move. It is a bit harder and more risk of getting damaged on the wall if a fender isn’t appropriate placed or you mess up the lines” 

The 100 foot boat and our boat were waiting for the massive freighter to arrive. They were about 45 mins late. We could see him on our AIS and just had to wait. The freighter was going in the lock first and the two of us were going in second with our boat tied to the 100 footer.

“There are 6 locks, 3 up and 3 down with a artificial lake (Gautun) in the middle”

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Our first lock was a nice and clean move into the lock. We were able to tie easily to the 100 foot boat after the large freighter was inside. The water went up and we moved safely. When the lock opened up the big freighter in front of us went out first. We untied from the 100 footer and hovered in the middle so that 100′ boat could untie and move forward first. In the next lock they had to tie up first so we could tie to them.

The Second lock went pretty nice too. No issues, we tied up nicely and again the water move up and we moved out after the freighter cleared. This time we had a little cruising time before the 3rd lock. So we were able to move forward as soon as the freighter moved. While we were cruising in part of the lower channel we let the 100′ boat pull past us so they could go in first.

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Going UP!

The Third lock also went well with no issue or concerns. This time we were tied up on the right hand side (starboard) rather than the left hand side (Port) of the 100′ boat. The lock was just a different shape.  We then had to navigate Gatun Lake towards the last 3 locks. We were pretty sure of ourselves on how it worked and getting tied against the other boat. We didn’t expect it to be much different, but some changes happened that impacted us greatly!

We were told that we would have a different group of boats with us on the way down. The 100′ boat was only scheduled to go half way and headed back the other way for a day trip after spending time in the lake.  Their paid guests were only going for a Panama Canal day adventure and back again. The large freighter was asked to wait and go into a different lock, being that he cause us to be so late.

“Gatun was the largest man-made lake in the world, at the time it was created, 1914”

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Large freighter, that went past us in Gatun Lake

Gatun Lake was an interesting cruise and we went through it pretty fast, within a couple hours. There was wildlife and other boaters that are mostly locals and some other boats holding for one reason or another, to get through the canal at a later time. We were surprised that the water was so dirty. Not sure why it was so greenish-Brown.

The Canal and pilots really control what happens and you follow direction as told. We changed Pilots in the middle of the lake too. The pilot that joined us in the morning had some request come through that he needed to leave. A pilot boat picked him up and brought us another pilot.img_1200-1

The Fourth lock (first one going down) we saw a tug boat ahead of us and were told we would tie to him, a different freighter was going in behind us. As we headed into the lock Dan could see the turbulence from the Tugboats engines. Tugs have very, very powerful engines and inside the lock the water just gets pushed around and creates a huge motion in the water.  We struggled a bit to get close enough to the tug to tie up. The wind was more of a factor, because these locks we were going down in height. img_5618We started off with the water high, almost level with the lock walls. Rather then starting at a low point and being protected by the lock walls. The wind did impact us as we were attempting to tie off on the Tugboat, but we got some lines over and for them to help us tie off to them. (you can see in the picture the Tug crew were not extremely helpful) Then the large freighter was tied behind us. When the water went down, the employees stopped it and took it back up. We weren’t sure what happened at first but the large freighter had big anchors hanging out on the sides of his bow. His tie off in the lock wasn’t perfectly even and he was going to hit the wall, so up we went. They pulled a bit with the mules which evened it out a bit, then back down we went.

“A mule is a Train like hauling machines for the freighters, one on each side, costing $2 million USD apiece”

The canal owns about a hundred of these. All large freighters are pulled through the canal, not using their engines. Smaller boats, like us, use their own engines. 

The Fifth lock (second one going down) was tough and scary! It was the most challenging lock. The wind had picked up and we may have headed into the lock a bit too early and were impacted by the spinning water from the tugboat. As we headed in, the stern (back) of the boat started twisting towards the right (starboard) side of the lock. Dan couldn’t control the movement without hitting the tug. We backed out and attempted it again. The same thing happened but this time we were heading for the wall on the wrong side of the lock. All of us “line-handles” had to hustle over to the starboard side of the boat with fenders and boat hooks to push us off and protect the boat. img_5611Dan was attempting to move us forward without us rubbing the side our boat on the opposite side of the lock wall. He needed to twist which would have the stern touch the wall. We were all panicked and started screaming at Dan, not to go backwards anymore then what we were already doing. There was a uneven section on the wall that could have really taken a big chunk out of the boat. Well, we touched the wall with the corner of our boat as we slid back and twisted. Thank Goodness, we missed the uneven pointed section. We just got bruised with a few scrapes and a couple small spots that can easily be repaired. 

Dan said, “It was one of the hardest maneuvers he has ever done, as there were large invisible and uncontrolled forces on the boat”

It could have been much worse, we only have a small amount of damage on the boat starboard stern corner. Not claim worthy, just some touch up needed. We were finally able to get close enough to get lines over to the Tugboat and get tied up. It was crazy scary. Not for our safety, but for the boats safety. We didn’t need big repair bills.

One of my FAVORITE pictures was taken in this lock #5 before we went down.  You could see the last lock #6 in front of us and the Centennial bridge. Which I think looks like Sails of a sailboat at an angle. The water is also more clear and clean as we neared the Atlantic side.

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The 6th and final lock was just as hard as #5 but we had a better outcome. We held back longer to let the water settle inside the lock before we headed in after the Tugboat. The Pilot told Dan to head directly at the stern of the tugboat and allow the water/wind to push us away. We were able to get our bowline over to the Tug which allowed us to pull along side of him and it worked much better.

We were happy to be through the canal and we were all exhausted and ready to be docked at Shelter Bay Marina. This marina is located inside the Panama Canal breakwater so it is much more protected than Flamenco Marina. We quickly tied up with the help of the marina guys and went to celebrate our victory at the local restaurant. We had a nice dinner and we all were in bed early that night!

The actual transit took approximately 12 hours, not counting the waiting and pilot boarding. 

Here is our time Lapse Video of our trip… Please LIKE our video on YouTube!

 

Watch for our next blog on… Shelter Bay/Colon & San Blas Islands – Should be a good one..

It will be our first Blog on the Atlantic/Caribbean side 

Our TERRORIZING Cruise to Panama, It is a Nail Biter!…37

It was time to check out of Costa Rica and head to Panama. Checking out of a country is a bit complicated. You have to check out of customs and immigrations in addition to the normal port to port check in/out. We were in Golfito, Costa Rica at Banana bay. These guys made it as easy as they could, Thank you Andrei.

This Map shows planned route and areas we stopped with black “X”. Red “X” is at Punta Mala (Bad Tip) and our difficult nail biting path with red line.

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Map from Golfito to Vista Mar Marina, San Carlos Panama

Our plan was a 3 leg jump to Vista Mar Marina in San Carlos Panama. Our first leg was Isla Parida, Bahia Catalina. This is a nice quiet cove protected from wind and waves. We had some dolphins off our bow multiple times during the day and we had our fishing lines out. (see dolphin video at end of blog) We caught lots of Bonito, which we don’t really like, so they went back in. But mid afternoon we caught a Dorado which is Mahi Mahi. img_5308We were so excited, sorry no pics of the catch. It is really hard work with just two of us catching fish. Not only do we have to take care of getting the fish into the boat, cleaning and packaging, someone has to drive. Luckily we are in a big wide open ocean and Dan was able to help me get it in. Then he cleaned it and I preparing it for packaging while we switch off driving. I saved some for dinner and froze the rest. We had a great dinner with a fresh homemade pineapple salsa. It was awesome.  We had a nice evening.

Next morning we were off to Isla Cebaco. This island had a nice cove for us to pull into. It was calm spot for an evening at anchor. The only issue was the water was deep close up to the shore, making it hard to anchor. This caused us a bit of an issue, as we like anchoring in about 25-30 feet of water but that was only a few hundred feet from the shoreline. When we put out the anchor we were swinging way to close to shore. Time to pull it back up and try again in a different spot. Second try was a success, we were still a bit close to shore then we would normally like, but we put on our anchor alarm & depth alarm to assure we didn’t get pulled too far. We had a nice evening and we were all good, all night long, with our anchor spot. We had decided to sleep in a bit because our next run was going to be a 24 hour run, so there was no need to hurry.

We left the anchorage around 9:00 am. The first 8 hours were pretty uneventful, we had fishing lines back out, but didn’t catch anything worth keeping. Around 4pm the waves started picking up a bit, but it was no big deal, it happens often, just a little rough water. (start of the red line on map above) We decided to pull in the fishing lines. It was getting almost dinner time, dark would set soon and it is no fun catching & cleaning a fish when it is a bit rough & dark. The waves and wind continued to pick up, it got worse and worse. By 6pm it was dark and we were getting hit hard with waves head on.

Funny thing about bad waves in the dark, you can’t see them coming, they just hit you!

Normally Dan and I do swaps “on watch” where I sleep between 10-2ish, then he sleeps and I watch until sunlight. So we started our normal routine. Dan went to rest sometime around 7 so he could take over about 10pm. Dan was starting to not feel well.

We were taking the waves pretty hard straight into the bow of the boat. I decided I needed to talk to Dan about it. We discussed  and we decided to turn a bit east taking the waves at a 20° angle on our port bow. This did help a bit but the waves were really big. Dan took over watch and I went and attempted to rest a bit but could not sleep. I could hear Dan getting sea sick and decided to let him take a rest. For a while he just crashed on the floor at the helm, but he eventually moved to the couch in the salon. I was in auto pilot, standing at the wheel, holding on for dear life. I used my legs as springs for up, down, side to side over and over again. It was exhausting. These waves were about 8 feet tall and we were taking green water over the bow on each hit. You have to understand that this was not a easy run and we had no choice about going forward. There was no turning around or a bay to hide in, as the nearest anchorage was exposed to the open sea. It was go forward, slowly, period!

The waves were now increasing in frequency to about 4 secs apart at 8 feet high.

If you are a boater, you know the golden rule about square waves. If the frequency is 4 seconds, you want the height of the wave to be much less than 4 feet. When height is taller than seconds, it is not fun.

Well, we were in a considerable amount of discomfort at 8 feet, 4 seconds. I was just focused on doing my job and not focusing on any fear, won’t do any good to be afraid! WELL, until a crazy unexpected wave hit us so hard, BANG, CRASH, BOOM! it is dark and I couldn’t see a thing. I was very concerned, I wasn’t sure what broke but something did!! Then the water started to pouring in on me at the helm. The side helm doors were closed, so it wasn’t that. It was coming down the flybridge hatch over my head. Water was just pouring in and I’m now standing in water and was really frightened of what could have broken.

My first thought was, the sink in a cabinet on the flybridge, maybe it broke loose and the water pipe broke.

Whatever happened I was going to need Dan and quickly! I hollered for him to come see what happen up top. (he didn’t tell me at the time) but said later, the flybridge had a couple inches of water moving around up top. BUT, It wasn’t fresh water, it was sea water. We had taken a wave so big and at such an angle that it hit over top of the flybridge windscreen, 20 feet above the waterline. Ok, now I was frightened!!! My fear was related to, what happened if more waves hit us in the same way. We cleaned up the floor, but we were still not close to being out of the woods yet.

We realized, as the bow of our boat was down at the bottom of the wave a another big wave quickly hit us while we were at a vulnerable position sending water over the flybridge window and down the hatch at the helm!

Dan went and laid back down and I kept at it. We turned a bit farther east. Dan came to check on me around midnight. I was tired, my feet hurt, my nerves were rattled and I hadn’t had any sleep yet. Dan was planning on going back to the couch, since he was still sea sick. But I had another idea and told him I couldn’t take it any longer, I was just too tired. Dan had to take over, vomit bag in hand. Yay.

I slept for 3 hours, pretty hard sleep, even in the rough seas. We had discussed earlier in the evening that as we passed Punta Mala, translations: bad point/tip (red x on map), and cut across the bay, we were expecting a bit calmer waves/wind situation. Obviously NOT!! When I woke up around 3am the waves were still big but had adjusted a bit to our benefit. We were still not counting our chickens before they were hatched! Dan went and laid back down to sleep some more and the sea condition continued to get better & better.

By 5:15-ish the sun was starting to come up, the waves continued to get better and I cracked open one of the side helm doors for some fresh air. I saw our life ring laying on the side deck. I didn’t want it gone, so I pulled open the door a bit more to grab it. img_5312Then I saw something else, I wasn’t sure what it was and had to get a flashlight. I understand now what the noise was when we took that big wave over the flybride. Our heavy dock box that was filled full of cleaning supplies was picked up, flipped over and shoved down the side deck.  Underneath was part of the life ring, cushions from the bow seat piled around the box. WOW, the bow seat had a cover over it. I wondered where that went along with the other cushions and all the contents of the box and anything else that was on the bow. I opened up the other side door to find our heavy stern anchor and rode laying on the other side. I could see another cushion, but wasn’t going to get it yet.. still too dark. I was sure we lost many of the pillows/cushions overboard along with cleaning supplies & the bow seat cover. Who knows what else?? 

As the sun came all the way up, Dan woke to see how we were doing. We found some items that had slid all the way along the side deck to the back door. We picked up some cleaning bottles that survived, a couple cushions/pillows and found our bow seat cover too. I was feeling pretty good we didn’t lose too much. We still needed to take inventory once in the marina. Dan was doing a bit better and we headed into Vista Mar Marina, San Carlos in much calmer seas on the last hour of our trip. 

We were both pretty wiped out after arriving at the marina and were really happy nothing worse happened to us or the boat. We lost some items, but with all the inventory done we had just a few items gone. Feeling very lucky that all my cushions and seat cover were all recovered. Later when Dan analyzed the snaps on the seat cover to see why it came undone. The dock box had hit many snaps and destroyed them and the wind/waves took it the rest of the way off. We were grateful for our Hatteras, she performed well in such rough seas!

We also should have been more prepared. We didn’t take the rough seas and dark night as seriously as we should have.  We just didn’t think it was going to be that rough. We are always so cautious and always take safety first. We just needed to be a bit more diligent about it, remembering the items on the bow.

The prediction of the waves and wind were off…as we all know, they are just predictions. We do the best we can with the forecast we have. We feel lucky and keep focused on the positive side…. We could have lost more items, the rough seas could have lasted longer than our horrible 14 hour journey, the dock box could have slammed into the helm window and we could have both been sick. But we made it, we learned stuff and don’t ever want to get caught in that rough seas, for that long of a time again!

We are grateful for you as readers and that we are both safe and sound to report back to you of our adventures. The good and the BAD!

Next Blog… A Panama Transit, A time lapse adventure on film! And photos too, of course.

Dolphin video…that I mentioned about above. If you watch closely you will see a mom and her baby side by side.

 Thanks again for your continued support!

The crew and owners of Angelique CPMY

Side Note: We fixed the snaps on the seat cover, installed padeyes to hold the dock box in place and stowed the rest of the items.

 

 

 

Pura Vida, Costa Rican Culture, Mangroves & Dolphins…36

We learned a lot about Costa Rica in our short stay, about 45 days. We knew it would be different than Mexico, but we had gotten so use to Mexico that the changes seemed bigger or more monumental. So here are a couple unique things about Costa Rica that you might not know. img_4890

Costa Ricans sayPura Vidafor everything. The word actually means Good Life,  but today it can mean just about anything, at any time and any place. So the meaning isn’t always that clear! Here is an example I found hanging in a restaurant. ⇐⇐⇐

You might hear someone talking about going to a Soda. A soda sounds like a drink in a can to us gringos. But a soda is a family-run restaurant where the menu could be changed each day and/or written on the wall. It is a casual, comfy place that the locals go to get their favorite food and us foreigners to get a taste of their food.

What is the Costa Ricans favorite food? It is a traditional meal called Casados.  The word actually means “married men”. It clearly doesn’t mean that in this context. It is said that the term for this meal might have originated when customers asked to be treated as a “Casados” (a Married man), since married men ate such meals at home. This meal consists of; rice, black beans, salad, meat (chicken, beef, pork, fish etc.) and plantains. It is delicious!

Coming from Mexico where service and cost of product is very inexpensive, we had a bit of an awaking with the “cost” in Costa Rica. Everything is just a bit more expensive than Mexico. Also when you go to a restaurant they add in “10% for gratuity” automatically . It is the law that they have this on the bill. You can tip more but you don’t have to. After being in Mexico for so long, we forgot that it isn’t always that cheap everywhere!

img_4956Costa Ricans have a unique way of keeping animals and people in/out of their land. “Living tree fences” are made with real trees planted in a row with some type of wire between them. It is very effective and much nicer looking then what we think of as a fence. There are sometimes large ditches to catch the rainfall. They put these in the towns too. Just ask me because I fell as I was stepping over one. I was fine, just a bit shook up.

In Costa Rica you can see right away how important palm oil is. “Palm Tree plantations” are abundant in particular areas of the country. In the Quepos area they were just about everywhere. What we learned is that these plantations are huge in size and in the middle of the plantations is a small town with locals that live and work the palms. They consider towns to have 3 things, a Church, a School and a Bar. These small towns looked similar to any other small town, they just had majority of the workers and their families. The process for picking the fruit is done on a rotation of every few weeks to get the ripened fruit bunches, they are very fast growing. They are cut down with a long pole and/or men climb up the trunk. A different person picks them up and hauls them to the local processing plant not far away. They also have to groom the trees and remove dead leaves and any old fruit. Hard Work!

Costa Rica has huge Rainforest and its beauty needs no word

After our return from our holiday with our family and friends in Portland Oregon, we started preparing for our trip to Golfito, Costa Rica. Yet another step towards the Panama Canal. Golfito area is the closest marina to the border where you can check out of the country. We left Pez Vela Marina mid-January and had decided to take one stop along the way at Bahia Drake. We stayed a couple nights, it was a nice anchorage. img_5177-1On the second day we put our dinghy down and took a cruise around the bay. We were told that at high tide you can get your small boat up a river to see monkeys  . It took us a while to actually find the entrance as it was very hidden in the forest. We cruised up as far as we could and got lucky to see a couple monkeys along the suspension bridge.

The next day we headed to Golfito for our final check out of the country. We arrived to a small marina called Banana Bay Marina. It had a cute little cafe at the top of the dock and other boaters that are part of the “Panama Posse” were there, and we got to meet up with them. It was fun to meet people we had only chatted with on-line.

The Panama Posse is a group of boaters that are heading to Panama (all on their own schedule). By joining this group we get discounts at Marinas and learn from others that have done it before. We also have a chat line available to ask questions or get info.

img_5197We stayed stayed 5 nights at Banana bay Marina which allowed us to get all our paperwork done and get some provisions loaded before leaving the country. We did one adventure while we were in Golfito, we took a trip with a local guide through the mangroves to see all the birds, crocodiles and vegetation. He then took us to see a huge dolphin pod. We have seen so many dolphins I can’t even count…but this time we were down low in a small boat… a different point of view.

We were now ready to head to Panama, we had called Marina Vista Mar in Panama to let them know we were coming and would be taking a couple day to get there. It was approximately 300 nautical miles to our destination.

Watch for our next blog: Our Terrorizing Cruise to Panama”. It is a Nail Biter for sure!