Week 8 19 – 25 February 2018 La Playita, Balboa – Portobelo, Atlantic Panama 70nm
18 February Monday La Playita
Very early start to get to town around eight o’clock. We were going to help a friend currently in Thailand to pay his satellite phone membership, bought here in Panama a year ago. Of some reason they couldn’t get the Swedish bank to transfer payment to a Panama company.
When that was done we were too early for the big mall. We instead took the bus to the central bus terminal and from there another bus in to the new city of Panama City. Strolled for an hour among the very high buildings with scattered old small houses in between.
Had coffee and then continued walking towards the old town, now an UNESCO heritage. We are happy we decided to pay this place a visit. Although being a “tourist trap” with ridiculously high prices it was worth the effort. Being Monday and before lunch time there were actually not many tourists and we managed to avoid restaurants with tripled prices compared to our restaurant out at the marina in La Playita/Flamenco.
On the old defense wall to the sea were lots of small stands where they sold must have things to the tourists. Most of them were Cuna Indians selling Molas. Although nice, the asked prices were very high. It seems that especially American tourist don’t mind these prices and very often even tip on top!
We found a nice lunch bar and had lunch and a beer. The neighbor charged three times more for the beer. How is that possible? I mean it’s obvious that they overcharge you and why should you choose the more expensive one? After that good meal we continued north out of the old town looking for the supermarket we saw on the map.
Suddenly a police was calling us from behind and came almost running. We were not supposed to continue, and looking a bit further we understood his concern. We were at the border of the poor part of Panama City and the police was from the Policia Tourist that tries to protect tourist from being hurt or robbed. We told him we were only going to visit the supermarket three blocks into the suburb. He looked at us and saw no cameras, no watches and now jewelry. “OK you will probably be fine” and he let us walk into the dangerous are. In the supermarket we saw only people from the poor neighborhood and we thought the prices were adjusted accordingly.
Coming out of the market we took a taxi back to the marina, not to stretch our luck too much?
Back in Moon Annika called the Canal and suddenly was offered a transit on Wednesday instead of Sunday.
We had to come back on that offer because our line handlers were occupied on Wednesday.
Soon we had three new ones and we called back and accepted Wednesday.
Now we were even more thankful for our trip today to the old town. With this new schedule we would have missed it otherwise.
We cleaned the boat and stored things away to be able to have three night guests already tomorrow night because the transit will start already at five am early morning Wednesday.
We took the dinghy ashore to visit the chandleries in Flamenco to buy filters, oil and check out if we could use the fuel dock in the Flamenco Marina to fuel up and take on water. Flamenco Marian is cheaper than La Playita Marina and has a fuel dock that is much easier to access with a long keeled boat without a bow thruster.
Back in Moon some more work to make room before we went to bed.
19 February Tuesday La Playita.
After breakfast we weigh anchor and motored around the peninsula to Flamenco Marina where we got diesel, water and petrol for the dinghy.
Back at our spot in La Playita anchorage we took the dinghy ashore and then the bus to the big mall for last minutes stocking up. We were supposed to feed six people (which turned out to be seven!) during eventually two days (which turned out to be one day).
If we are lucky we can get through in one day. If not we have to anchor in Gatun lake and another night in Moon for the line handlers. The advisors never sleep in the boat, only eat and drink. We hope our early start will get us through in one day.
Back from the mall with lots of bags and our two backpacks heavily filled with food.
There was no wind at the anchorage making the temperature very high in the sunshine.
Before six pm we took the dinghy into the marina to meet our line handlers at the restaurant.
After dinner and two dinghy tours out to Moon we soon hit the beds to be able to wake up to the planned early start.
20 February Wednesday and the big day Balboa – Shelter Bay, Colon 49 nm
The wakeup call came twenty minutes before five o’clock, but Annika called Flamenco traffic control before we pulled the anchor.
Now we were scheduled to meet the advisor at buoy number six an hour later. Buoy number six was only five minutes from our anchorage, so instead of pulling the anchor we had breakfast. We now also heard the name of the boat that was going to transit together with us and soon in the dark we saw its navlights when it came out of La Playita Marina. Very relaxing to notice that it was a sailboat in similar size as Moon, good because we are certenly going to raft together in the locks and that is always easier with similar boats and size.
Quarter past six we were together with Taurus, a Contest 50, at buoy nr 6 waiting for our advisors. They came shortly after our arrival and they were three!
We got two advisors, one being a trainee. The trainee, a young woman, seemed to have a bit of trouble accepting that Annika was the captain, but very soon she was ok with that and we had a very pleasant day together. Hector, the “real” advisor was a very relaxed man that had no problem being in the background, only supporting the trainee.
Both our advisors seemed a bit worried when we showed them our Swedish way of handling the ropes to the wharf. Through the cleats and back to a winch, making it possible to give and retrieve the lines without releasing them from a cleat. The comment was “we will see how it works in the first lock”. We used the system with great success through all six locks, while the hired line handlers on Taurus had quite a problem with the “normal” Panama Canal way, loosing ability to keep the lines stretched at all times. Of course it helped us to have our own nice lines? and not the bulky polypropylene (25mm one inch) lines that most yachts hire for the transit.
We were very lucky not having a big ship in the lock together with us. We transited the upward locks together with a square rigger from Mexico, a tourist boat and three tugs.
Coming into the first lock in Mirafloor, the crew on the Mexican ship was on all spars singing, much appreciated by the many spectators standing on the balconies of the information building. Quite an unusual transit. There must have been a special ad somewhere for tourists, because when we visited the lock a week earlier there were not ten percent of this number and that was in the middle of the day!
Thanks to all these circumstances, not to mention the easy handling of our two shorelines (the other two was handled by Taurus), the day became more of a day out instead of a work day for our three line handlers.
When we had done the three locks we disconnected from Taurus and started the run through the canal and across Gatun Lake. We had to be in time on the other side before they turn the traffic to go the other way. Seven knots was the required speed and that is more than a knot faster compared to our normal long time speed. The Contest with its big turbo engine had of course no problem. We adjusted our revs from 1400 to 1600 and then we could surprisingly easy keep up with Taurus. We sent some grateful thoughts to Max Prop and our new four bladed big feathering propeller installed this spring.
Half way across the lake we got headwind and Taurus lost speed. Moon had to rev down not to hit their stern! Now we were even more impressed of our new propeller and of course our naturally aspirated 65 HP Perkins Sabre!
When we had half an hour left for the lock we understood that we could get through if we hurried up a bit. We speeded up and that inspired probably Taurus to do the same. Just outside the lock, where a big ship was waiting for us, we rafted in almost full speed and entered the lock in front of the ship.
Just as the monkey fists flew through the air the big ship was pulled into the lock. What a difference to be in front of a big ship instead of behind. No prop wash what so ever. The Mexican square rigger was alone in the parallel lock.
Coming out of the locks into Colon Harbour and the Atlantic we got gale force head wind which made the trip to the Flats, where we were to leave our two nice advisors, a salt sprayed one.
Then we were to find a spot to leave our line handlers which in the north easterly gale wasn’t that easy. After two attempts we had to go to Shelter Bay Marina, where we arrived just after sunset and moored behind the breakwater pontoon among the superyachts.
After some mistrial we found a taxi that for $100 could bring them back to Flamenco in Balboa.
It was a relief to be alone and have a shower on the pontoon.
We had been seven people in the boat the whole day, and these persons had to be supplied with food and drinks all day. Fun to test that Moon could have seven people seated at a table in the cockpit without Moon sitting to heavy on the waterline, in spite fresh water around us.
We will probably, in spite the high marina fee, stay in the marina until the wind has settled a bit and then continue to Portobelo to check out from Panama.
21 February Thursday Shelter Bay Marina
We had a nice wind through Moon the whole night and slept very well after our extra long Wednesday. The wind was still strong from NE and we had the bow in that direction.
Went in to the marina office as soon as they opened and got a normal slip in the marina and bow to the wind again. Annika moved Moon easily to the new slip and then we started the project cleaning up the boat and all lines.
Laundry had to be done and all the red brown dirt that had accumulated on deck and everything else outdoors during our stay downwind of Panama City had to come off using a broom and lots of fresh water on deck.
All lines that had been used during the transit were soaked in freshwater. All sheets, furling lines, running backstays and preventers that were impregnated with salt and red brown dirt were also included in the process.
We hadn’t hired any lines or fenders, Moons ordinary eight fenders and shorelines was more than enough for a safe and easy transit. We didn’t use an agent and what we have understood here in Shelter Bay the waiting time for transit is not effected by having an agent or not.
We are very pleased to notice that our increased speed during the crossing of Gatun Lake didn’t increase the diesel consumption notably.
We spent most of the afternoon in two Norwegian boats arriving from San Blas.
Had a simple dinner in Moon as we had the food we bought to feed seven people during two days.
22 February Friday Shelter Bay Marina
Continuing the work with cleaning the boat.
Annika made copies from our tracks in Pacific to give our fellow cruisers from Norway and Finland.
During the afternoon these were delivered and installed while rest of the crews had a beer or two together with the rest of the crew from Moon…
We had dinner at the restaurant together with our German friends from the canal transit.
23 February Saturday Shelter Bay Marina
Still 20 – 30 knots from NE and we have a nice temperature down in Moon.
When the rest of the deck had been cleaned after breakfast we installed all lines along the cap rail that had been removed not to interfere with the line handling in the locks.
Annika helped Taurus with their SSB which had problem to communicate with their PC.
Björn went to the yard to see if the Swedish Malö Rubicon was ready for launching after new antifouling. The antifouling was done but there was some problem with the windlass and that had not progressed according to plan. Some plates and little more from Moon fixed it and Rubicon was splashed after noon.
Finally we had time for a walk where we saw small monkeys and three ant eaters – small ones. Later Lisa and Johan from Rubicon came to Moon for a sundowner. The crew from one of the Norwegian boats came also over to have a look at Moon and suddenly we were eight people looking around in Moon.
When they were pleased, we sat down and had a beer with Rubicon. Lisa and Johan really needed that after a stressful final of their hardstand.
After our sundowner we had dinner together at the restaurant.
24 February Sunday Shelter Bay – Portobelo 21 nm
Not that strong wind during the night.
After breakfast we delivered a hard drive full of copies to Rubicon and said farewell also to the Norwegian boats. Then we drove out of the marina into the fresh north easterly wind. Hoist a reefed main to stabilize Moon in the swell. Portobelo was only a few degrees out of the wind!
Motored into the swell all the 21 nm, but thanks to the design of Moon it was not too uncomfortable. Half way we decreased the angle to the swell ten degrees and came closer to shore where we finally got some protection from land. The final five miles was quite ok.
Three hours after we left Shelter bay we took down the main and motored into the bay where Portobelo is at the head.
Nice wind from shore over the anchorage and some clouds. We even got some rain, but only drops.
But what an odd place! Several sailboats aground and some on anchor seems to be abounded, although we later found out that most of the boats had cruisers or live aboard, even the abounded.
Why are we here? According to information it´s possible to clear customs, something that is hard to believe when we look at the shore line of the “town”. We will check it out tomorrow.
Annika & Björn