Monday, May 28, 2007

Sunday 27th May


8 56.162 N
79 33.296 W

The alarm went off and I hit the off button then looked at the time, Gerry had set it for 05.30hrs – definitely too early for me! The howling monkeys in the nearby rain forest were making the most awful noise – you almost didn’t need an alarm to wake you up. Gerry got out of bed and crept around, first making coffee – the smell of which pervaded the entire boat; then he began banging pots and pans about making breakfast I gathered. I ignored all attempts to get me up and stayed put until 07.00hrs – still too early by my reckoning but better than 05.30! The guys were all up, showered and ready to face the day having eaten eggs, bacon and toast and drunken orange juice and coffee. I pulled a couple of slices of bread out to toast just as the new adviser for the day stepped off of the pilot boat and on to our boat. We quickly introduced ourselves, we were lucky enough to have Oswald traveling with us for the second half of our transit. I enquired as to whether or not he had eaten breakfast yet or would like a coffee, he thanked me and accepted the offer of coffee; I guess he had eaten breakfast before leaving home. Gerry started the engine and the line handlers cast off the lines from the mooring, our second part of the transit was underway! Oswald directed Gerry to the “shortcut”, there are two passages through the canal, and one is shorter than the other – by half a mile! The large container ships all use the longer passage leaving the shorter one for the smaller boats like us. JJ Moon was in front of us and Y Not was behind us and apart from the three of us the passage was empty. Gerry upped the revs and we motored along at an unheard of 6.5 knots. Gerry’s comment was that the fresh water and no current assisted our motoring speed; the engine seemed to handle it pretty well. Unlike yesterday the sun shone and the day became hotter and hotter, we mostly tried to stay in the shade in the cockpit away from the glare. The scenery through the canal was quite spectacular; it is almost pristine rain forest, unspoilt by human invasion. Oswald told us that the wildlife has free run of the place and thrives quite nicely there. There is apparently a Smithsonian research center in the middle of the canal somewhere that can be visited from the Panama City end of the canal. We had about 4 hours to get to the lock at Pedro Miguel then it was a short distance to the Miraflores locks. The two passages through the canal join together at a certain point and then we began to encounter a few large ships traveling Northbound, we passed them with no problems arriving at Centennial bridge a little earlier than we needed to. JJ Moon had stopped to wait for us and Y Not as the three of us had to raft together to go through the locks. As JJ Moon has the largest capacity engine of the three of us it was to be the middle boat with Y Not and us flanking it. We rafted together, adjusting fenders to prevent any bumping and securing lines to the bow, stern and mid ship. From this point on we would be responsible for the line handling on the port side, Y Not would be responsible for the line handling on the starboard side and JJ Moon would be the driver for all three of us. We had to keep our engine switched on but for the most part just in idle mode. As each boat has 4 line handlers and an adviser the rafting together makes 8 line handlers and 2 of the advisers superfluous. I asked Oswald if it was always the center adviser who takes control in this situation, the answer was yes but the other 2 advisers still have to be alert to the possible problems during the lock passage. Once we were rafted together I cooked up hot dogs for everyone on our boat and we ate these for lunch, finishing off with some fruit and chocolate chip cookies (had to keep Gerry's levels up). JJ Moon motored us forward (with a few revs added by us for good measure) to the Pedro Miguel lock, Alphonso and Roberto caught the lines for our side and did a great job of keeping us in position in the lock. We were behind a small tourist liner in the lock but there was loads of space between the back end of them and the front end of the three of us. The lock gates closed, the water drained out and we were soon exiting the lock and motoring on towards the next set of locks at Miraflores. The camera on the lock at Miraflores was pointed in our direction as we approached according to the adviser in charge on JJ Moon. I stood in the bow and waved at the camera – just in case anyone caught it, the chances were slim and I would have looked like a dot on the horizon but I was there! We repeated the lock process through both of the Miraflores locks, getting lower each time. Finally the last set of lock gates began to open and we got our first glimpse of the Pacific. We were now on the downhill slope towards home! Once we were clear of the locks we untied our rafting up lines and were suddenly three separate boats again. We began motoring towards the Balboa yacht club where our agent had organized a mooring for us. Suddenly the pilot boat was heading towards us – it was time for us to thank Oswald for a safe and pleasant passage and farewell him. I gave him our boat card with the blog details so he could look up the photos. If you are reading this Oswald, again many thanks, we had a great trip and would welcome having you, Rick, Alphonso, Roberto and Winston as part of our team again! Oswald stepped on to the pilot boat and roared into the distance whilst we continued on to the yacht club, Roberto knew the radio operator at the yacht club and spoke to him about our mooring, I think he was really telling the club what great people we are! Anyway we were directed to a mooring tire and the guys tied us on – how nice not to have do it ourselves for a change. They then undid the tires that were acting as fenders around our boat and handed them to the man who had come out to fetch them. It cost us $1 per tire for him to take them away. Alphonso, Roberto and Winston then gathered together their gear and with our eternal thanks ringing in their ears climbed into the boat to depart to their homes. They didn’t make it very far before we had to wave them back, Alphonso in his haste to get home had left behind his hat, sunglasses and cell phone! We offered to return them for a fee – they took our trash ashore for us! It was about 10 minutes later that we found Winston’s cigarettes and lighter on the foredeck, we will give them to Enrique and hope that they make it back to Winston (even though he needs to stop smoking!). Gerry and I opened up the hatches to let some air through the hot boat and then took the covers off the solar panels; they were soaked from the previous night’s rain and were going to take some time to dry out. Once we had indulged in a shower and clean clothes we called the water taxi (its part of the yacht club facility as there are no docks as such for dinghies) and went ashore for some dinner. Roberto had told us that TGIFriday was close to the dock; we found it and went there for dinner before returning to the boat for the night.



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