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Panama 26.2. - 30.3.2005

26.2.    6.3.  15.3.  21.3.  30.3.  

26.2.2005 Panama City, Panama
Circle - or more precisely a figure eight - was completed on Thursday, 24th of February, when we arrived to Panama. Three years we have been sailing on the Pacific Ocean. Two times across, and lastly 8000 miles along the coast. Mileage is same than Ellen's around-the-world trip (which is, by the way, incredible achievement), 27.000. Here is some statistics:

Panama - New Zealand 8300 May 2002 - November 2002 6 months
In New Zealand 1700 November  2002 - April 2003 6 months
New Zealand - Alaska 7900 April 2003 - August 2003 3 months
Autumn in Alaska 1000 August 2003 - November 2003 3 months
Cordova - Aleuts - Sitka 2600 April 2004 - July 2004 3 months
Sitka - Panama  5500 August 2004 - February 2005 7 months

It was a big relief to arrive to Panama. Actually, not until now we realised how stressful the long sail and tight schedule had been. We passed Costa Rica, but stopped a hundred miles before the Gulf of Panama in a solitude and beautiful bay to rest and wait for good weather to gross the Gulf. The wind is almost always blowing from north in the Gulf of Panama, usually 20 knots, and there is also a strong south setting current.
The anchorage was a paradise. It was wonderful to be alone. We swam, read and rested. We explored the two small paths that started from the beach, but they didn't lead anywhere. We made a fire on the beach and cooked baked potatoes. We watched pelicans dive and wondered jumping rays. They made high jumps into air, three times around or five metres ahead flapping their "wings". Funny. We tried to see monkeys making noise in the trees, but couldn't catch any by binoculars. The last morning we had a swim and Auli saw a shark! Fortunately we were not far from the boat, Auli was by the stairs, Hannu on the other side. Despite that he came up faster than Auli. We watched huge, dark creature and the surface cutting fin coming closer to the boat. We got goose flesh despite the heat and a killer shark movied started to roll in our heads. The shark was big, about half Kristiina (18 ft) and very dark. We have only a fish guide from New Zealand waters, and the only big shark is Basking Shark, but was this it or just some other big shark, we don't know. But it was creapy, that's for sure. Especially after splashing in the water several times in a day. What if Auli hadn't seen the fin...


It was so hot in the boat that we moved to the beach for the midday hours.


We had arrived to rainforest. The dry, brown scenery changed to green in Costa Rican coast 

After three relaxed days the weather fax forecasted five knots wind to the Gulf of Panama, so we hoisted the anchor. We rather wanted to motor in light winds than spend ages tacking. By the infamous Cabo Mala it was blowing 20 knots, but the wind decreased quickly and we motored and motorsailed the 100 miles of the gulf. On Thursday morning we approached the Flamnco anchorage, and what we saw, a Finnish flag! The first one we have seen on our trip. It was Arctic Lady, a 40 feet steel sloop, with Ari and Eija aboard. They have been 10 years in the Mediterranean Sea. On the deck was also Jukka, their crew, whom we had met three years ago here. It was great to meet Finnish sailors. Arctic Lady had transited the canal a couple of days earlier and now the Pacific was waiting. We invited Ari and Eija for a dorado dinner, we had got a nice catch of mahimahi previous day. There was a lot of talk and we even knew same people. Arctic Lady is originally from our yacht club, Sindbad.
The Finnish company wasn't there, however. Next day another Finnish boat, Marita, came through the canal. We had met Irmeli and Tapio three years ago at the home of our friends in Buenaventura, Atlantic side. We could maybe count s/y Noomi to the gang also, with a Finnish skipper although a Swedish flag. So there was nine Finnish speaking sailors on Friday night at the Balboa yacht club bar.


Arctic Lady - the first Finnish yacht we've met - is originally from 
Sindbad, but has been 10 years in Mediterranean and last two in Caribbean.

6.3.2005 Panama City, Panama
The week has gone quickly, taking care of paperwork, helping and socialising with other Finns. We are so happy to talk our own language and share the cultural background, that we haven't made friends with other cruisers. The farewell pizzas for Noomi was eaten on Thursday, and on Friday Jarmo, Hannu and Junnu set off to Galápagos. Arctic Lady went on hard to Balboa Yacht Club for bottom paint and lifting the waterline (seems to be the task for every cruiser :-). We were helping with the haul-out, which was done by a cradle (sledge?) moving on a rail. The second attemp was succesfull, on the first one Arctic Lady was too far back and leaning to other side. The yard is small, there is room for two boats.


Ropes tight and up on the land


The Balboa Yacht Club yard can take two boats
Photo: Eija Luoma

Clearance took two days. First we took a cab to Port captain's office, because the vessel control Flamenco Signal informed that no officials are coming aboard Kristiina and we should do the clearance ourselves. But the papers have to be made on the area where the boat is, so we drove back to the anchorage with the officer. No need to go on the boat, however, we sat in a small cafe by the dinghy dock. Paperwork costed 30 dollars, we even got a receipt, but heard later that it maybe wasn't fully "official" payment. We got a ride to the Immigration office, where our passports were stamped, free.
On Monday we went to maritime authorities for a cruising permit. It's valid three months and costs 69 dollars. After a trip to bank to change a 100 dollar note, we were done with clearance. Next to the canal office. We were asked to fill in our request on the computer. Because we have transited before, our data was already there, and there is no need to measure Kristiina again. There is a rumor that you should be able to make 8 knots (three years ago it was 6 knots), otherwise they double the fee. How hard we tried it wasn't possible to change the 6 to 8 on the computer file. We'll see what happens. Few sailboats can make 8 knots with a crew of five, full of proviant in headwinds.
Even Kristiina didn't need a measurement, chocks, fenders and ropes have to be inspected. After inspector's visit you go to the bank and after bank you enter the line. The same happened than three years ago: the inspector didn't arrive the day informed. After one and half days wait and two phone calls a big pilot boat dropped the officer on our deck. In addition to the inspection, the final papers were made. There we put 8 knots as top speed. The inspector reminded that you get fined if you don't make it. However, it's worth to take the risk. Especially, because lately all the boats have been transiting in two days, overnighting on Lake Gatun.
On Friday morning we paid the fee - or rather made a visa reservation for 1450 dollars. After transit they withdraw either 600 dollars, which is the normal payment for boats under 50 feet, or more up to 1450 dollars, if something, like a delay, has occured. Actually it's a good system. If you pay cash you have to wait for the refund. On Saturday we got our preliminary date, 19th of March, but it will change. We are ready to transit in any way: center chamber, nested, along a tug or sidewall. Most boaters avoid the last because they are afraid of damaging the boat or spreaders. But it might speed up the things. We have 8 huge fenders found on the strands iof the Aleuts and 6 tyres, so those should keep Kristiina out of the wall.
Our canal experince from three years ago is found here, dates 7. and 12.5.2002.

The construction of the Panama canal began by the French in 1881, but in 1901 France gave the task up because of financial problems. USA bought the construction rights from the French in 1902, helped Panama to gain independence, and rented the canal area. Canal was opened in 1914 and USA was in charge of it until year 2000. The canal is 40 nautical miles long and has six locks, three on the Atlantic side and three at the Pacific side. The locks are double chambers, so traffic is possible two ways at the same time. Between the locks is 30 miles long Lake Gatun. A lock chamber is 33,5 metres wide, 305 m long and 26 m deep. It can take a 294 metres long ship with a draught of 12 metres. More info www.pancanal.com 


Dinghy style by the Arctic Lady: Jukka, Eija and Ari coming for a visit.

15.3.2005 Panama City, Panama
Our transit date is still Saturday, the 19th of March, although for a while we were told the 17th. Time has gone by waiting and provisioning. Panama is much cheaper than the next stops Bermuda and Azores, so we will fill up the stocks. Hannu has been helping sv Marita. A new autopilot was installed, but before it was tested several drawbacks happened. First the windlass didn't work, then next two mornings the engine wouldn't start. On the fourth day they were able to motor out to calibrate the autopilot. Hannu had a busy week.
On Thursday, the 10th of March, Arctic Lady hoisted anchor and set sails for Ecuador and onwards to Galápagos Islands. Farewell party and skipper's birthday was celebrated in the already familiar pizza place (tasty pizzas for 3.50 to 7 dollars, on Mondays two for one). 


The post-farewell party in Kristiina:
Auli, Irmeli, Jukka, Tapio and birthdayboy Ari.

Finally we also met our Panamian friends, Heka and Marja, who picked us up on Saturday. We went wholesale shopping and came home with 12 litres of milk, 8 litres of juice and considerable amounts of beer and wine. A beer can costs 32 cents and a wine packet 1,50 dollars. Cheap.


The idyllic Taboga village is only one hour's trip from Panama City.

On Sunday we left to Taboga Island seven miles away. On weekends it's very popular destination. Beach was full, music loud and jet scooters fast, but on Monday we woke up to a peaceful morning: we were the only boat in the bay. It was good to get out from the Flamenco anchorage, where we had already been two and half weeks. And the best, on Taboga you can swim, which is not temptating in the dirty Flamenco. Water was lovely and cool, 27 C (air is 34 C). Hannu cleaned the bottom, which had some growth and barnacles. Also Marita arrived to Taboga, after we had told on VHF about the pleasant place.
Taboga has a small village, which is tidy and beautiful. Houses are painted with bright colours, and there are flowers everywhere (the island is also called Isla de Flores). Spanish settled the island in 1515, only two years after Vasco Nuñez de Balboa and his men had made their way across the isthmus.

Energetic redhair, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, first arrived to Caribbean as a stowaway on a Spanish ship in 1501. Ten years later he used the same travelling method to come to Panama. Balboa started to explore the land and look for gold. In 1510, he established a Spanish village, Santa Maria la Antigua, in Darién. It was the first European settlement on the American continent. Balboa was named as the temporary governor of Darién. He continued expeditions, and couldn't forget what Indians had told him about a sea behind the mountains. In 1513, Balboa took hundred Spanish soldiers and as many Indian porters and left. The journey through the dense jungle took three weeks. On the 25th of September Balboa alone ascended on a hill from where the Pacific Ocean was seen. However, he named it the South Sea, Mar del Sur. Balboa continued the expedition along the coastline, and he also later explored the Pearl Island, Islas las Perlas. The rest of his life wasn't as succesful. Before Balboa's letter telling about his achievements reached the king, a permanent governor of Darén was named. He was Pedro Arias de Ávila, who hated Balboa, and finally got him executed in 1519. The same year Pedrarias, as Avila was called, established Panama City. Nowdays Balboa is one of the suburbs in Panama City.

Why pacific? The incorrect name was given by Portuguese Ferñao do Magalhães  (Ferdinand Magellan) after sailing from South America to Philippines in 1520-21, where he died. But Balboa's South Sea wouldn't have been much more precise name for the largest ocean of the world, if not for the south part.


Balboa's route across the Panama isthmus in 1513.

 

21.3.2005 Buenaventura, Panama
Friday, the 18th of March, was our transit day. So the waiting time was exactly two weeks. The previous day we cleared out from Balboa, as we had been told to do. Should not have done that, too much hassle that costed 10 dollars. First we filled up a form and gave the crewlist. Two papers were made, and we got a receipt for 4.20 but had to pay 8.20 $. Stamps were shown for the remaining 4 dollars, maybe same ones strolling around that office. Then we went with the papers to another office, and filled another form. Number of crew was asked and we said two. But these papers were just for the Balboa-Colon passage, ie. the canal, where the minimum number of crew is five. So presumably we should have had a crewlist with the names, passport numbers and birthdates of our linehandlers. Well, we didn't (and I wonder how many does!). The situation was explained to a very angry boss, who kept repeating about the crewlist. Finally we made a crewlist of five names without more detailed info. A receipt was written, we paid 1.50 $ and got a zarpe. Earlier on the week we were visited by a sanitary inspecor and had to pay 15 dollars.


The mooring buoys of Balboa YC are very close to shipping lane. Fee is  0.35 $ per feet.


Irmeli's and Tapio's S/Y Marita, Pendrick 40

At six o'clock in the morning the Flamenco signal called us on VHF to confirm our position. We were at the Balboa Yacht Club, at one of the outer buoys next to shipping lane, so we were allowed to wait for the advisor there. At seven the launch brought captain  Manuel Mendieta aboard. Irmeli and Tapio jumped in from Marita next to us, and the fifth linehandler, Heikki, had arrived the previous evening. We headed towards the first lock.
Manuel was excellent advisor. We were nervous because of our experience three years ago, which was a big hassle. But we started to relax when we saw how competent and calm Manuel was. He has been at sea for 9 years and is presently working as a tug boat skipper. Manuel started to arrage the fenders and lines, and gave very precise orders. We went to the locks alongside a 100 feet motor yacht, which in turn was tied to a tug. The raft was untied after each lockage. It was easy to us, because we only had to see that we were tightly tied to the motorboat, and that the fenders were on right places. The motorboat had all her fenders on the other side, but the big crabpot buoys we had found in the Aleuts were enough. The yacht had a professional paid crew, which also made everything easy. The two locks of Miraflores and one of Pedro Miguel took Kristiina 26 metres above the sea level.


Miraflores lock side by side a big motoryacht. 
You go up behind a ship.


Our advisor Manuel was calm and competent, 
couldn't been better.

After the first three locks we had 30 miles motoring along the Gaillard Cut and across the Gatun Lake. We were worried again. No way we could keep even near the motor boat's speed. Hannu was also worried about the engine cooling. Running full speed rised the temperature to 100 C. But there was no reason to worry. Six knots would be enough, said our advisor, the lockage is not until 3 pm. The average speed was 5.5 knots and the temperature didn't rise over 88 C. Manuel was steering giving Hannu a break. We had salmon salad for lunch, later coffee with applepie. 


Lake Gatun and no worries.


This is another way to move your boat from 
ocean to ocean.

We were at Gatun locks around 3 pm, but the schedule was a bit delayed. We would get down at 4.30. "Time to relax", said Manuel. We moored on a buoy. Hannu and Auli went swimming (no crocodiles in sight). It was good to swim in fresh water. Also the motoryacht was waiting - had been for several hours - and for some reason it remained there when we started proceed towards the locks. This time we went sidewall, which means that we had lines from bow and stern tied to canal bollards. Linehandlers gave slack when the level of the water is descending. It is easy, there is no turbulence when you go down. Behind us was a small passanger ship. There are three lockchambers and the total height is 26 metres. By the dimlight were on the Atlantic. Relief!


In Gatun locks our advisor was at helm and the skipper was taking care of the stern line.


Bow linehandlers Heka and Irmeli

We motored to Colon Yacht Club and right away there were people asking for our tyres. There is less traffic from Pacific to Atlantic, so you almost have to fight for the tyres. Heikki went home, Irmeli and Tapio stayed overnight. We went for a dinner to the yacht club, and first what we heard in the restaurant, was Finnish. SY Mindora from Helsinki was waiting for a transit. On this side it can take a month.
On Saturday we cleaned the boat, filled watertanks, and tacked in 15-20 knots headwinds to Buenaventura. It was odd to anchor in shallow water, we have only half metre under the keel. But there is hardly any tide. This is Atlantic!

 Happy Easter!

 

30.3.2005 Colón, Panama
We spent a lazy Easter with Marja and Heikki in Buenaventura. Hannu fixed the leaking inflatable thrid time, but other than that we didn't do much. One day we drove up to a monkey institute, where Heikki is working, and saw howler monkeys. They were so high up in the trees that I couldn't get any photos. On Tuesday we sailed back to Colon Yacht Club. There were two Finnish boats, Necesse (Avance 36) and Satu III (S&S 38). Both are going around the world.


Colon Yacht Club. Slip costs  0.65 $ foot. 
Nearby is a free anchorage, "the Flats".


Necesse and Satu III

We are heading north, home. There is still 7000 nautical miles, as much as from Panama to New Zealand. Because of the NE tradewinds, we are heading first to Cuba. Some tough people sail (i.e. tack) east from Panama - like our French friends Sylvie and Jean, and they did it in December storms - but we are not that tough.


The route goes from Colon to Providencia, a small Colombian island.
From there we head to Cuba but might stop in Mexico, either on Cozumel
or Isla Mujeres. From Cuba we sail between Florida and Bahamas
to Bermuda. The Gulf Stream is giving some extra knots, but
if the wind veers north, the sea builds quickly (wind against the
current) and then we might have to stop at Bahamas.
Because of NE trades and strong currents the route between
Cuba and Haiti is not a good option.

Distances:
Panama - Providencia 280 nm
Providencia - Cuba west tip 540 nm
Providencia - Cozumel (Mexico) 530 nm
Cozumel - Cuba west tip 150 nm
Cuba west tip - Havanna 180 nm
Havanna - Bahamas 300 nm
Havanna - Bermuda 1100 nm
Bermuda - Azores 1800 nm
Azores - England appx.1300 nm
England - Helsinki appx. 1500 nm


Panama - Providencia - Cozumel - Havanna - Bermuda - Azores - England - Helsinki appx. 7000 nm

 

 

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