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 

Leaving Mexico, Costa Rica Here We Come! The Challenges of the Pacific Heading Southeast…#34

To say we were excited is an understatement….

It is finally time for our trip south, We planned to be in Costa Rica by late November.

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During the month of October Dan and I started our planning. We had to clearly understand our stops/marinas/anchorage and work to make reservations in the marinas we had identified. We also knew we needed some help for our long voyages. Dan and I figured we could go as far as Huatulco or Puerto Chiapas Mexico by ourselves. But the jump to Costa Rica was a big voyage and we needed someone to join us. Dan and I put out an email to our friends asking if anyone was interested. We got a hit from our Yacht Club friends Loren and Stephanie Hamberg. We were excited and started planning the timing & dates to pick them up in Huatulco. This helped us outline the stops and timing for our trip down the coast. We needed to be in Huatulco by 22nd of November.

On 29th of October we left Paradise Village Marina. On our way out we stopped at Marina Vallarta to fuel up and then planned our first destination, a close and fun one.

Destination #1 Banderas Bay, Playa Gemelas, 7nm, 3 hours, @ 8kts from Paradise Village Marina – This location is in front of our friends, Jane and Tony condo. We had taken Angelique to this location a month ago for a day trip, this time we were going to spend the night. It was an easy cruise across the bay. After dropping anchor we swam into shore to visit and spent the day on the beach We also were able to see the completion of their condo remodel. We had a great day, we will miss seeing them.  We stay 1 night in this bay.

Destination # 2 Bahia de Chemala, Perula cove, 93nm, 11 hours, @ 8kts from Banderas Bay – A full day of cruising then anchored in a cove where we had some of our sailing friends Andrea & Ben on SV Bella Vie and Vicky and Mike on SV Bonzer. The bay was only partly protected from the waves/wind and we ended up putting out our stern anchor. This helps keep the boat pointed into the waves and prevents the wind from pushing us sideways, which is very uncomfortable position for the boat. Had a wonderful dinner on shore the last night with all of our friends with great food, margaritas and company. We stayed 2 nights.

Destination #3 Barra de Navidad Marina, 40nm, 5 hours, @ 8kts from Bahia Perula – Just a short cruise to the cute Marina & town. We were in a resort with pools and restaurants. We always enjoy ourselves when the marina is part of a resort and we get to enjoy some of the resort amenities. Took a water taxi over to town multiple times, had some great meals and saw some of the Día de Muertos “Day of the Dead”where they honor their friends and relatives who have passed. We also ran into a Columbia River Yacht club member Tom Nesbit while we were there. Found the hidden pool in the resort which is impossible to find, Don’t tell anyone!  We stayed 5 nights.

Destination #4 Ixtapa Marina, 211 nm, 27 hours @ 8kts from Barra de Navidad – We had a full 1 day run to Ixtapa. Many times we see dolphins at our bow or in the wake behind us, today was no exception. We had to anchor out at Ixtapa Island for a few hours before heading in the marina because they had a working  dredge in the channel. We arrived around noon to this very quiet & calm marina. Not much happening near here, so we took a shuttle bus (14 pesos = .70) ride to Zihuatanejo. We had lunch and met up with our friends from SV Belle Vie again. They were having drinks and chatting with some folks that were staying in a condo up on the hill. We got invited to go swimming at the condo the next day. The view was amazing and we had a blast! We also did a scuba diving adventure at some of the Ixtapa Islands with Dive Zihua which was fun. Dan had to do a repair while we were here, the heat exchanger for the power steering hydraulics was leaking seawater… time for a fix! We stayed 7 nights.

img_3958-rotated.jpgDestination #5 Acapulco Marina, 112nm, 12 hours @ 9.5kts from Ixtapa – Acapulco isn’t the best city to stay in with all the gang violence.  You can read about shootings, gang violence and the struggle the law enforcement is having to keep control. We decided to not venture out much and use this as a resting spot and get provisions. Grocery store across the street was fabulous. Nice fresh veggies and full of all kinds of good food. Dan also had another repair needed to the generator raw water pump. We did do one taxi ride to the cliff divers and dinner at a hotel. What a great treat this was. Their were about 10 or 12 divers, they jump in off one side and swim across the gulch and climb up the rock face on the other side to their jump off spot. They have to time their jump perfectly with the incoming tide. The depth is only 12-19 feet and at the deepest point and they dive from 135 feet at the highest point.  We stayed 5 nights.

These Pictures show.. jump in, Swim across, climb up and dive in.

Destination #6 Huatulco, 240nm, 29 hours @ 8.2kts from Acapulco – We anchored out in the bay because the marina in this area was closed. This is a holding spot for us to welcome our friends, Loren & Stephanie and wait for the weather window to cross the Tehuantepec bay. If you haven’t heard about the Tehuantepec winds, it is well known for its offshore winds up to 40+ knots.  This is one of the riskiest locations to cross because the land is only 150 miles wide and the winds shoots across the land from the Caribbean sea to the Pacific Ocean. As you can see in the pictures of windy.com below. We stayed 2 nightsimg_4023

 

Destination #7 Puerto Chiapas (Puerto Madero) 224nm, 23.5Hours, @ 9.5knots, from Huatulco – The recommended route through the Tehuantepec bay is to keep 1 foot on the shore. Meaning travel close to the shore which prevents the winds from hitting you so hard. We had an awesome no wind couple days. With our friends aboard we pulled anchor and were off within an hour. It might not have been the best for our poor guests after their long flight from USA. They are troopers and did a great job with us on this trip. We had a great cruise across the bay with no issues. Our goal was to take some down time once in the marina to allow Loren and Stephanie to get some sleep, adjust to time and weather.  Chiapas was a cute little marina with a restaurant close by and a fuel dock which we stopped at on our way in. We were boarded twice by the Mexican Federales with a narcotics dog, first time at the fuel dock when we arrived and just prior to our exiting the country. They are serious about checking the boats. This is standard procedures for everyone…. don’t go assuming stuff here. We stayed 2 nights here.

Destination #8 Papagayo Costa Rica 480nm, 64hours, 7.5knt from Puerto Chiapas – Our plan is to skip the 4 Central American Countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras & Nicaragua) We are purposefully skipping these 4 countries because of the unrest in these countries. Some boats go to one or more of these stops. We just decided that the entry and exit of each country is difficult along with unknown. We decided we wanted to spend our time in Costa Rica & Panama rather than these countries.

Yes, You must find and arrive at the “Capitania de Puerto” office when checking in and out of areas inside country, in addition Immigration and Customs office when arriving and departing from a country!

Our approach for this long voyage was to set up a watch schedule over a 24 hour period. With four crew members we each had 3 hours “on” and 9 hours “off” in a 12 hour period and repeat in the 24 hour time frame. Example: my shift is 3 to 6, so I have 3am to 6am and 3pm to 6pm. I sleep, eat and help out during the off hours. We try and have some food prepared and/or ready to eat. Crackers/cheese, veggies/hummus, hard boiled eggs, snack bars, peanuts, muffins, chips, sandwiches, pasta, guacamole. I try and make an easy dinner if the weather is good. We only had one bad night with very rough seas and we all skipped dinner and ate snacks. Our trip was mostly calm until we hit the Papagayo winds about 80 miles from our Marina. We were warned about this area and it didn’t disappoint us. It was a rough 5 hours until we got around the point of land and it calmed down. We arrived at approx 5am and slowed down until the first light at around 6:00 to be able to pull in to the marina safety. We stayed 7 nights.

BUT we MADE IT SAFELY to COSTA RICA BABY!!  and we were all extremely exhausted! 

WATCH for our next blog on our adventures in “Costa Rica”… #35

 

Safe from the Hurricanes, REALLY? A Boat Takes a Hit…. #33

Pic from “Sea of Cortez Cruising Guide”

I imagine having your boat in a hurricane would be the worst thing ever! I never want to learn first hand what it is like. All the horrible pictures & stories make us work hard to stay safe and keep our boat Angelique in safe areas. We intentionally made our way to Bahia Banderas, Puerto Vallarta in August to stay in a safe area from the storms. Our plan was to go back to Paradise Village Marina & Resort in Nuevo Vallarta, a suburb of Puerto Vallarta. We picked this area because the history of hurricanes hitting this area is less likely than any other pacific ports. Banderas bay has a unique shape with mountains that help the storms change directions. ??? This Pictures show the history of hurricanes. We knew we didn’t want to be any place close to the Sea of Cortez.

Summer time in Mexico is insane. The heat, humidity and rainstorms are unbearable & uncomfortable, but were amazing to watch. We had been to Paradise Village Marina in winter before going north into the Sea of Cortez. This time it felt different with the heat and humidity, we didn’t have any other choice if we wanted to be safe, so we made the best of it. We spent time doing events with friends and family and keeping ourselves fended off from the rain and lightning storms that came our way. They were a pretty regular event every 5-8 days we had a storm that hit us with pretty intense rain and thunder & lightning.

We had built some great friendships with some of the locals here in Mexico. One of our good friends  is (amigos), Sergio and Briseida, who are the owners of machine shop we used in Opequimar. Briseida and Sergio came over and cooked a homemade dinner on our boat with our friends from SV Belle Vie. Briseida made traditional chili relleno dinner. Andrea and I got lessons on how to make this wonderful dish.  It was Fabuloso!! We also spent time with them on dinners out when we went to the Blue Shrimp restaurant dinner. we had a great time and we treasure our Mexican friendships.

We are also good friends with Jorge Servin of SYS Marine Services and Chandlery shop. We used Jorge for much of our boat repair when our boat was on the hard. We trust his opinion and often would call him for advice about repairs that Dan was working on or where to find parts, even help with stuff in the city and a fishing tour.  He picked the fishing charter we used to go fishing with our friends and family and he came along with us too.  

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Our friends Aletha and Terry from Arizona joined us for a week. We enjoyed our time fishing, we didn’t catch anything worth keeping but we all had fun! We also rented a car for the day and went to Punta Mita & Sayulita. We really enjoy Sayulita and recommend it if you are traveling near Puerto Vallarta. It is a easy day trip with lots of fun stuff in town. We enjoyed having our friends on board and able to spend time with them. An interesting point… even our friends from Arizona battled the humidity here in Mexico, It can be really rough.

img_3558Our Son Mitchell came out for a week in late September. We found some fun things to do while he was here. We did a cooking class with @cookinvallarta and would highly recommend this class. It is a 1/2 day event with shopping at the local farmers market and then cooking our meal. The next day we did a walking food tour for dinner. This was all local restaurants in the romantic zone. All the food was excellent. We introduced Mitchell to some of our boating friends in the marina too.

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We also spent some time with our friends Jane and Tony who own a condo here in Puerto Vallarta. On one calm day we took Angelique over to the south side of banderas bay and anchored and played in the water and visited their awesome condo facilities and beach. We had a blast. They are doing some remodeling with their condo and it looks amazing. We also did dinners out with them as often as we could. They have been coming for years and had many great spots for us to try. At El Patron de Vallarta restaurant we had an awesome waiter with Rock Bands tattooed all over his body. We enjoyed chatting with him and the food was great, we went twice!

We of course worked on as many boat projects as we could during this time. You can see some of the work in blog Paradise Isn’t Always Wonderful….#31

On the last week in September 2019 a tropical Storm “Narda” hit the state of Jalisco, bring rain that devastated Yelapa and took out a bridge over a local river in Puerto Vallarta. We were hit with only strong winds and rainstorms that lasted a few days. This because we are on the opposite side of the bay from where the storm came in.  We have had many storms over the last few months with severe lightning. AND WHAT about the boat that took a hit?? Our neighboring sailboat was hit by lightning during one of the storms at about 3am. It was an amazingly loud bang. I’m sure inside was even louder. They took a hit to the top of their 80 foot mast. It took out all of the navigational electronics, interior led lighting, the electronic controls for their boats complicated hydraulic system, furling equipment, battery chargers and more…. That was a pretty close hit to home, being that they were right next to us. The pictures below show “Accuweather” of the storm as it progressed passed us. I have a small “X” where we were located. We kept a close eye on all the storm activity as it come close by.

On Tuesday October 29th we finally were ready to leave the safety of Paradise Village and started our long awaited trip south. During our down time we did tons of planning on where to stop and either anchor or a check into a marina. We felt we were ready and we were excited for the trip south. Our next blog will outline the locations we stopped, how many nautical miles, hours and average speed. Of course with an overview of the location we and how well we liked it.

We are always grateful for our experiences, even if we felt like we were sitting and waiting out the storms. We had some great times with many friends and family during our waiting time. We are blessed!

Join us for our next Blog about our southward bound trip…. Leaving Mexico…#34 We are Costa Rica Bound!