“Everything takes a long time in Central America” is an understatement. We spent the last month at Shelter Bay Marina in hopes of getting the boat hauled and the bottom painted. Their lift is operational and has the capacity to lift Seabird but an area needed to be cleared so the boat could be cradled, a generator procured that could power our battery charger and last but not least we needed to resolve some insurance considerations. The management at Shelter Bay is great and they did their best to accommodate us but we elected to move on. We were able to get the boat waxed and detailed prior to our departure and we will miss all the nice people that work at Shelter Bay and the fellow cruisers we have met there.

On Sunday August 5, 2007 at 4:00 PM we left Shelter Bay Marina for the Flats Anchorage in Port Cristobal to start our Panama Canal Transit. Because the Pacific Bound transit takes two days we elected not to hire line handlers as friends and family volunteered to be onboard for the transit. The original plan was to anchor have dinner and our advisor was to board at 7PM and we were scheduled to be in the first lock at 8:27PM with another boat that we were to raft with and enter the canal with a center chamber tie off. This meant that each vessel would have a bow and stern line attached to the wall as were centered in the chamber. Things did not go as planned. Our partner boat made it clear that they did not want a vessel rafted to them and some how managed to leave ahead of schedule. So off goes the partner boat and our advisor does not show up!! Since this was a new experience for all of us we began to wonder if we were going to go that night and we now needed four people to handle the lines instead of two once we did get underway. Several calls to the canal authority and we learned that Victor our advisor was on his way. Victor arrives about 8:40PM and informs us that he is a replacement advisor and that he is really a security guard….flags went up but after a long discussion we learned that he has acted as an advisor on and off for 18 years… we are ready to go once Victor has his supper…
Line assignments are made: Tom (Carol’s brother) and Carol take the bow and Andy and Tut take the stern and Tut’s wife Eddie is my back up and our official photographer. Steven and Victor get us to the first lock behind a large freighter and the four 125ft lines are secured to the wall. We are locking up on the initial 3 locks and the first is the most turbulent when the salt and fresh water mix as the lock opens. It is quite a vortex but Steven maintains control with the bow thruster but we hear a shout from the stern that one of the lines we rented is short. Quick thinking Steven and Victor realign the boat so we don’t lose the line. Locking up is a lot more work than locking down because you are constantly pulling in and securing the lines as the boat rises. By the third lock we were tired but pros and ready to drop the hook in Lake Gatun and enjoy a cocktail or two before crashing for the night. We were happy to see that Victor was our advisor again when he arrived early the next morning. We were all friends by now and we were comfortable with instructions and guidance. He mentioned that we were scheduled to enter the canal with the same boat that left us at the flats the night before. We passed them on our way out at about 7AM and started our 18 mile cruise through the beautiful man made lake Gatun. As we approached the first lock around 10:45 AM we were told that the other boat was two hours behind us (their Pilot was late) and Victor pleaded our case to enter without them. Someone was on our side as we had a private transit for all three locks. They opened the locks for our little vessel and allowed us through all by ourselves….. I don’t think that happens very often!! The line handlers changed positions so that Tom and I were in the stern and as luck would have it we were undercover when a huge thunder storm arrived in the second lock. All the others on the bow were drenched but the rains cleared for the last lock. After lunch a launch comes for Victor and we are on our way to Flamenco Marina. We are only 45 miles from Colon but in a totally different world. The marina is not nearly as nice as Shelter Bay but we are close to Panama City, there are 15 restaurants in walking distance and the climate is drier. The only down side are the slip rates and there are no other cruising boats here but mostly local sport fishing boats with crew on board.

I am writing this log aboard Seabird as she sits in the Flamenco Boatyard after an uneventful haul out (except for 18 people shouting instructions in Spanish!!). We expect it to take about 4 days to clean and paint the bottom. We are enjoying a hotel in the city and should be underway to the Las Perlas Islands by weeks end.

Until next time……………………….
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