LINKS FOR THE YEAR 2001
|[JAN] [FEB] [MARCH] [APRIL] [MAY] [JUNE] [JULY] [AUG] [SEPT] [OCT] [NOV] [DEC]|
Log for the week of February 2, 2001 Port Antonio, Jamaica by PS
We are planning to leave on Saturday, so I decided to post this log a little early. My introduction to a foreign country was a real eye opener. Our friend Dr. Rowland told us this was the "Real Thing" and he wasn't kidding!
Monday morning we entered Port Antonio in quite a blow. I'm not sure Amy described the situation dramatically enough. The waves were crashing ashore so hard that their spray sometimes covered the 52 foot lighthouse! Amy tried to get a picture but I discouraged her as we had no real charts of the harbor and I wanted our full attention on getting safely in. I wasn't ready to end Iwalani's voyage yet. We called the marina and they said they had space for us. Before we got all the way into the harbor a fast outboard came alongside to welcome us to Jamaica. It was a precurser of things to come. No sooner had we got tied up, with the "Q" flag flying, then a native was offering to wash our boat and do anything else he could get paid for. Well, so as not to offend the natives I hired him. He got right to work as soon as I set him up with soap and a bucket. The Marina called customs for us and we soon cleared that hurdle. As it turned out, Immigration was too busy to come down to the marina, so three boat crews including ourselves were escorted to town. What a trip. We walked with the dock master about a mile though the heart of downtown Port Antonio. I think that the dock master enjoyed walking a parade of yachties. He seemed as though he knew most everyone, and our passing was taken in by the whole town. Things went pretty well at immigration and we were cleared in about 30 minutes. We returned to the boat to try and get some well needed rest. We couldn't seem to get settled down. It might have been the music and the hustle bustle of being tied up to the main dock. So far no-one had told us to take down the "Q" flag. It turned out that we had yet to see the quarantine officer. He came around about 6 pm and, with little fanfare, we were officially in Jamaica. It was off to the marina bar for a native Red Stripe beer!
Tuesday I worked on the waterpump for the Westerbeke. It was leaking more all the time. I didn't have a press, so I was a little nervious about the job. I hoped that I could do it by hammering off the bearings but... Anyway, with several locals for an audience and two hours later the job was done. Later in the day we met John and Carol, on their steel gaff rigged schooner "Taio" We hit it off right away. They have a "Real" boat, not a yacht. No bright work or fancy hardware. They bought the hull and finished off the boat a few years ago. It's a Tom Colvin design. Nice lines. They have been cruising the Eastern Atlantic and have covered a lot of miles. They are about our age and it was good to run into serious cruisers. The further we get away from the mainland, the more serious the boats get. Most cruisers are a bit older then us though, in their 50's. The four of us took our dinghy to neighboring Navy Island. It used to be the private resort of Errol Flynn. Really neat. Kind of run down and abandoned. You could feel the ghosts of the past. With just a skeleton maintanance crew there, it was like having our own private resort. We ended up having dinner there. It was probably the first dinner they served in a month! Amy and I planned to bring our boat to their mooring. It turns out that the island is owned by the same marina we were in. The dockside life gets old for us pretty fast.
Wednesday we got onto marina internet connection and updated the log. They let us use their ISP so the was no extra charge. The connection dropped about 8 times but I finally got it posted. At the same time I noticed that the code was not correct for the page. I guess when I did the up-grades at Beaufort, SC it must have been late at night. Oh well, I'll just have to fix it before we go. Later in the day we went to town to by some food at the market. From all the stares we were getting, I was beginning to understand what it's like to be the minority. We also tried to find the local Veterinarian so Amy could see how things are done in Jamaica. After a 2 mile walk we were running out of "town". Finally we came to a roadblock with several "policia", one of which was carrying an AK 47 machine gun. We asked for directions and found that we had passed the clinic about a quarter of a mile back. By the time we arrived the doctor had left for the day. Must be the tropics. We got some phone numbers and headed back to the boat. In the evening we did some entertaining via our VCR. We hooked it up to the marina big screen TV and watched "As Good As It Gets". John and Carol hadn't seen a movie in over a year.
Thursday was Hot Hot Hot. Sun all day. 29c or 85f no matter how you looked at it, this was the tropics. No more cold weather cuddled up to the wood stove. Now we are staring at the winter scenes of our house in Maine, that Amy painted, for relief. The Caframo fans are a godsend. We took the dinghy out into the harbor so Amy could do some painting of the local scenery. It was definity cooler out away from the marina. Once back on the boat I attended to some repair work. The staysail sheet block needed to bo re-seized. The horrific jybing on the way to Jamaica took it's toll. I also changed the staysail halyard block as the stropping was badly chafed. We laid low for the rest of the day and had some beer at the bar after dark.
Friday I worked on the web page. I got the code fixed, so now I just need to get it posted. John and Carol came by for a visit. We bartered a four-inch grinding wheel for some bamboo paper. John needs to fix his self-steering so this wheel will help him out. I'm listening to U2 on the boat stereo to drown out the Country Western music at the bar. We are going to clear customs and immigration today so that we can leave tomorrow. The weather fax still shows 10-12 foot waves between here and Panama, but I guess that's what you have to expect during the height of trade wind season. We will just have to get a stiff upper lip and suffer through it. PS
Log for the week ending February 11, 2001 Port Antonio Jamaica to Colon Republic of Panama by APW
Waves. I used to like them. Lying on the beach in Georgetown hearing the surf crashing against the shore used to be a great way to relax. Now when I hear a wave crash all my muscles tense, my hands grip the nearest handhold and I get an automatic dive reflex. Phil and I knew the passage from Jamaica was going to be bad. All the books say don't go in February. The weather faxes showed strong trade winds of twenty five knots and seas of twelve feet. Herb Hilgenberg had boats holed up in anchorages all around the Carribean to avoid the winds that he said "were the worst I have ever seen, especially off the coast of Columbia. They just haven't let up." With my Dad, Ben and Nathaniel flying in to Panama to be our line handlers through the canal, we now had "get there it-is" Waiting for a weather window wasn't an option.
Port Antonio Jamaica was Phil's first introduction to a third world city. Markets lined the streets selling fresh produce- real oranges, not the orange dyed round things we have in the states, but green tough skinned fruit with sweet, juicy, flavorful insides. Pineapple- fresh and delicious. Sometimes sold ready to eat in ziplock bags for fifty cents. Red stripe Beer. Shoes. Lots of shoes. Barbecued meat which had been reduced to some tough looking unrecognizable chunk of charred sinew. Mongrel dogs scrounging through the garbage on the streets, some of them looking like they had greyhound in their lineage. Most with mange, all unneutered, some with bad scars from fighting in the "dog fights" Phil and I could hear in the hills at night. Goats chewing on the plants on the outskirts of town. Children dressed in school uniforms, clean, cheerful, smiling and singing as they waited in lines for buses. Cars driving fast, on the "wrong" side of the road. Honking horns. Loud music- the omnipresent Boom-piti-boom of the base from a passing car, street vendor, personal boom box or the reverberation through the hills of someones very loud stereo. Old rastafarian pan handlers, lying on the side walk, too weak to lift a cup, smelling strongly of feces, rot and decay. Their skinny black legs looking like turned ebony woodwork broken off a porch balcony- too smelly even for the flies to land on. Aggressive teenagers asking us for money. "Hey mon can I have a twenny?" They would ask. "Ven florgen drisken?" I would respond to them in pseudo-Norwegian, a puzzled look on my face. They eventually left us alone.
Gange. The ever present smell of marijuana. Everywhere. Reducing the country to a cheerful but complacent bunch of inhabitants. Ambitions become whispers and yesterdays thoughts. Projects once started become decaying dinosaurs. Even Errol Flynn's Navy Island resort fell victim to the Jamaican ennui. It is sad to see a beautiful country so disrespected by its people. The Jamaicans claim to love Jamaica like no other place on earth, but they smear her face with trash , garbage and plastic soda bottles. It takes motivation more than money to pick up after one's self. Jamaican's have neither.
Even Phil and I fell victim to the Jamaican ennui. We spent Friday updating the web-page and getting the clearance from customs. We had twenty four hours to leave the country. Friday nights the Port Antonio marina hosts a dance. Speakers five feet tall were set up ten feet from Iwalani. We had talked about moving over to Navy Island from the first day we arrived, but never seemed to get there. The sight of the speakers got us motivated and we finally moved over, something we should have done days before. It was peaceful, no Johnny Cash at three thousand decibels, a cooling breeze and a much nicer view. The dance, we heard really gets rolling at around one a.m. We were invited to attend a potluck dinner beforehand with John and Carol on Taio, and two other couples. Our first younger cruising couple- Paul and Lani on "Lucy"(they have a webpage too- that we haven't checked out yet- "sailinglucy.com" and George and Julie from "Seaquel"-circumnavigators and people made of much tougher stuff than Phil and I. It was decided that this was going to be a "Jamaican" pot luck dinner. I still hadn't had true Jamaican food, but bought three spiny lobsters(very cool looking and with similar meat to Maine lobsters- almost as much meat too)and got instructions on how to make a Jamaican lobster salad. (Lobster meat, lime juice, shredded cabbage, and carrots and a pinch of cloves) The others were a bit more adventuresome. Paul is a writer for Cruising World and is doing an article on cuisine of the region. He had the local delicacy of "Goats Head Soup" arranged to be made. Lani made Aki- a kind of mushy mix made from a fruit tasting like pulverized creamed corn. Paul watched "Hulk" make the Goats head soup. Apparently, a real goats head was smashed up with a lead pipe and all the parts were put in the pot along with some other choice tid-bits, including the cloven hooves and intestines. Carol is a vegetarian- Phil, John and I became one that night. But you've got to hand it to the others, a much braver bunch than us. They got heaping bowl fulls and asked me to identify the various body parts as they scooped them up in their spoons. Once the body part was identified and properly named they gobbled it down. Apparently Goats Head Soup is a powerful aphrodisiac. I am always interested in things along those lines, but not at such a cost. One of the diseases I forgot to ask the Jamaican quarantine officer about was scrapie, perhaps one of my most favorite diseases of all time. Scrapie is a neurological disease of sheep and goats caused by a prion- an infectious protein. I am convinced that prions and virinos ( infectious pieces of DNA) are the root of all evil; the cause of many human diseases- type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and Alzheimers. Scrapie is the cause of bovine spongiform encephalopathy- or "Mad Cow Disease" which started with cows being fed sheep brains... Goats head soup? No thanks. It was kind of mean of me to mention this as everyone was polishing off the last licks of their soup, but as I said they were made of much tougher stuff than me.
The Jamaican ennui extended into Saturday, the day we were due to leave. We lazed around Taio, the four of talking about how the cruising life really wasn't what it was cracked up to be. None of us like the passages. Phil had finally met his match for talking technical stuff. I said joking to Phil- "Lets leave on Sunday" "Okay" he quickly replied, with no hesitation. It was decided that we would attach Taio and Iwalani together, into a kind of cruising catamaran- a cutterschooner. The benefits being that Iwalani would roll less and they could use our electronics and water maker. It was really hard to leave them. In less than one week we had made such a concentrated friendship. I had left on this voyage expecting to see lots of wildlife and animals, not expecting to find such friends in far away places. Though the cutterschoner was funny, hopefully someday we will build our next boat together- a steel catamaran barge, for inland waters only, none of this blue water stuff. They made us a delicious dinner and reluctantly we left the following day, fully under the influence of Jamaican ennui.
We had to motor around the Northeast corner of Jamaica. Wind on the nose, the seas rough but no where like the seas when we arrived one week before. Iwalani chewed through the waves the whole way. Phil turned the water maker on, but forgot to turn a valve and unfortunately put 30 gallons of fresh water into the bilge. Once we rounded the corner of Jamaica, the Easterly winds healed us over where the salt water pick up sucked air as well as water, it was too rough for the watermaker to work. We would have to make do with the 30 gallons we had left in the tanks.
We were very quickly back in the "heavy trade winds". There is really no analogy for what it is like in a boat, in heavy seas for a long period of time. Imagine being in an elevator that goes to the second floor and back down, never stopping. Imagine that this elevator also swings from side to side, forward and backward, lurching suddenly off to an unexpected angle. (Even now that I am in port, the awfullness of it is starting to fade. It is a little like childbirth, I guess. Once it is over the pain subsides, the forgetting begins.) This elevator never stops this motion. I don't feel like I am really far away from shore... the scenery is always the same, so distance becomes irrelevant. Time becomes far more important. Suddenly your day is divided into four hour shifts. Four hours of trying to stay awake to watch that big ships aren't running you over and four hours of trying to sleep. Your muscles never relax. If you are not throwing up, you feel like you are going to. Yes I did get sick. Phil no, although he was pretty well out of it for the first three days. Me, I get more "out of it" as time goes by. I do not seem to adapt. Personal hygeine goes out the window. Cooking? Next to impossible. Cleaning dishes and putting things away an important and horrible task.
For five days we had heavy seas. Iwalani flew along with the wind, but unfortunately strong winds make big waves and they became my enemy. Wave heights are determined by taking the average height of the top two thirds of the waves. That tells you nothing about the three witches, the trio of waves that come every twenty minutes, twice as high as the average wave height. The first is big much bigger than any before, you can hear her roaring her greeting thirty feet away. She pushes the boat over hard on its side. Water comes over the leeward bulwark. She passes. Water must quickly drain out of the leeward side of the boat which, thankfully it does on Iwalani, before her sister, wave two hits. She is bigger than wave one. She crashes hard on the windward side sending green water over the cabin top, spraying down below if any portholes are open. If it were Hollywood, it would look like the stage hand had thrown a bucket of water over the stern. But these two are nothing in comparison to wave three, the strongest of the trio. She is the reason many boats get lost at sea. If the boat has not cleared away the water from the first two waves, wave three will founder the boat and make it go over. Wave three is the biggest of all- barrels of water come over the side, flooding the cockpit and drenching the poor soul tied in out there. Wave three was sometimes 4 Jays high; when you were riding on her crest, the hole left behind her looked like you were peering down from the roof of a house. One of those waves stole my fishing box, taking all my hooks and lures right over the top of the bulwark and selfishly curling them in her wet wave lips.
I didn't take long for me to realize the benefits of a "hard" dodger. Our flimsy cloth dodger is totally inadequate for offshore. Forget the dodger idea entirely. A well built pilot house with bullet proof Lexan is much more practical. So here you are now soaked, it is not cold, just sticky, and unpleasant. Soon the whole boat gets sticky, damp and smelly. Dish towels and dirty laundry perfume the air with that rank odor old sponges can get. Why bother brushing your hair? It will only get soaked and knotted from the wind. Marital relations? Yea right! This is perhaps the hardest part for Phil and I. We have a very hard time sleeping alone. We peck each other on the cheek at the change of each shift. Couples who barely tolerate each other would do much better at sea, than couples who can't stand to be apart.
On day three in the afternoon I looked up from the book I was trying to read and saw ten feet away, a brown object lying in the water streamlined, facing head down in the waves, looking up at me. At first I thought it was a manatee, knowing that was not possible three hundred miles out to sea; when the next wave passed it was further back and looked like a brown beluga whale, no, that wasn't right either. "Oh god, no" I cried. It was a sperm whale calf, left on the surface by its mother who was hopefully fishing deep below the surface. I had just read the Essex book about the whaling ship that got sunk by a vengeful sperm whale. That boat had four inch planks. Iwalani's planks are two inches thick. All I could think of, was that the mother would surface and find Iwalani between her and the calf. We would be toast. Iwalani sailed well away before she ever resurfaced. I could hear John of Taio in my mind "too bad you don't have a steel boat, you don't have to worry about whales".
By day four we still hadn't eaten much. I made Phil some macaroni and cheese and got sick just looking at it. We now were in some "convection" activity as Herb called it. Squalls. Rain that poured down with such force that everything was gray. I really couldn't tell if the wind picked up. It looked like it was, but the deluge of water really buffeted any increase in velocity. The wind was already blowing hard, what difference did a little more make. I still took down the staysail. I left it on the deck instead of tying it up at the mast. I was lazy, exhausted and really didn't care. When we got to Panama the movement of the staysail boom on the deck, had sanded a flat spot on the boom and a bare spot on the deck. I wished I hadn't been so lazy. We had the second reef in the main and the full jib . That sail arrangement seemed to work well. We had put in a lazy man's reef the night before, not tying the reef points. This left big ballooning bags drooping down from the boom, which quickly filled with water from the squalls. I had to get Phil up to put a proper reef in and help get the water out. I was worried that carrying that weight in the sail was unsafe and at the very least, would stretch the sail. Carrying more sail than we had previously done, prevented a lot of the resonance rolling, without making Iwalani careen or lose control. She really can handle quite a bit of wind easily. It is her humans which can't. I also blamed her for a lot of my bruises. I thought she was trying to kill me with the rolling and lurching. I now realize that her movements are valiant attempts at maintaining her footing in heavy seas.
By day five we had pretty much had enough. The wind sounds screaming in the rigging and waves were taking their toll on our nerves. Phil and I had a heart to heart talk. We wanted to go home. We could find no redeeming features of what we were trying to do. The people that relish this life were seeking something we had already found in Maine. The ocean passages were nothing short of torture. Getting to port was nice, but still not totally relaxing. We were still worried about dragging anchor, getting robbed, fire on the boat, running into reefs. Touring the inland countryside doesn't work for us. We had a hard time leaving the boat when we were in Beaufort SC., leaving it in a port we knew little about wouldn't do. People that enjoy this cruising life have nerves of steel and brains of turnip. I used to look at the cruise ships we passed at night, thinking "what Losers!" Now I see those ships all lit up like a Las Vegas Gambling Casino and get totally envious. Those people are having fun! They get into nice crisp cotton sheets at night, mints and orchid blooms on the pillows, scrambled eggs and orange juice for breakfast from a glass that you don't need two hands to hold on to. Phil said the whole problem is that the ocean is pissed off at man for leaving the sea, we became land creatures and Neptune just hasn't gotten over it.We both wished that we had a person with us that had done this blue water stuff before. It would help to give us sime perspective on what we were going through. Maybe we were just whimps, I know I am, but Phil was just as miserable.
We had read books and heard tales of people actually sitting out in the evening watch, the waves whooshing along, the wind gently whisping tendrils of loose hair, the mind sifting through thoughts of life, the universe and everything. My thoughts were always of doom and disaster. A new thing to worry about was brought on by the three witches. What if one of them was successful and actually capsized Iwalani? What would happen to the person on watch in the cockpit? We are strapped in with our safety harnesses. Maybe that's not such a good thing. If Iwalani didn't right herself quickly we would be pinned underwater, stirred around by the giant tiller like a cook with a wooden spoon. Because of these thoughts we have started clipping on differently in heavy weather. Instead of snapping the hook directly to the webbing that goes from bow to stern, we now pass the tether around the "jackline" and hook back on to the harness itself. This will hopefully allow us to unsnap if we have to, in an emergency.
I still wanted to go to the Galapagos, or at the very least see the Pacific. The very word Pacific means peace, it must be nicer than the Atlantic. While we were conversing, we smelled the one smell on the ocean that can give an adrenaline rush. Exhaust. Diesel exhaust. Sure enough one half mile away a small container ship passed us. I waved and thanked them for not running us over. We are far more vigilant at night and become much more relaxed during the day on our ship look outs. Luckily, the person on the bridge of that ship wasn't as irresponsible.
The afternoon SSB conversation with Herb didn't sound any better. Winds and high seas off the Columbian coast. Still. He had us go far to the west before we cut south for Panama. He seemed impressed with our time so far. We had counted on arriving in Panama on Saturday. It was now starting to look like Friday.
Late Thursday night, the waves and wind reached their peak. We were fully under the influence of the Columbian coast. We were starting to see ships once every hour or so, heading North from the Panama canal, eighty miles away. One motor yacht, came very close to ramming us. Finally at the last minute I got the Captain on the radio. He said he could not see us on radar. No kidding. We were too close and both of our vessels were lost in the wave clutter. How about my running lights, I asked him. "No",he replied, he couldn't see us. I turned on our motoring lights as well as the tricolor mast head light. Finally he could see us. I told him we should pass starboard to starboard. "Well it's a little rough out here for me", was his hesitant reply. He was trying to keep the bow of the motor yacht into the waves, so he couldn't get rolled over by the waves. He was off my starboard bow, but I was continuing to see his red running light. I told him I wanted to see a green running light from him. Reluctantly he turned his yacht and we passed each other safely. His boat was at least seventy feet long. What was he complaining about? Probably spilled too many martinis. Pushy woman on the high seas, but I was very near my breaking point. He came back to me after we passed asking if we had a radar reflector up. I told him we had a blipper, I didn't tell him that he couldn't be seen on radar either. But, I became more nervous after that. Every ship I saw on radar I tried to reach on the VHF radio, making sure they could see us. I would try first in English, then if no reply I would try my rusty Spanish, not used since high school. I had a good conversation with a fellow who sounded like he was an actor on Saturday Night Live. His English was a little better than my Spanish. He was in total disbelief that we were out there sailing, just the two of us and a cat.
The wind generator was really putting out electricity. Its high pitched hum when the wind really picked up was a little unsettling, but its steady flow of electricity was important for keeping all our electronics running. Suddenly I heard a plink-plunk. The sound of some metal object hitting the deck and then falling into the water. Our second spotlight had died the day before, so I turned on the cabin light on the companionway ladder to see what had broken. The self steering looked ok, but the wind generator had a spring hanging down, wagging in the breeze like a terrier's tail. I quickly scrambled down the ladder to try and turn the wind generator off. A real trick when it is blowing hard, as it is stopped by magnets. I was fortunate in getting it off quickly. My biggest fear was that the boat would lurch in the wrong direction sending the swinging spring right into the blades. Fortunately that never happened, but we were now without a way of charging the batteries without turning on the engine.
I noticed also that the red light was on for the propane sniffer. The alarm hadn't gone off but the light was on. Something to worry about later I thought. At midnight I greatfully switched the watch over to Phil.I turned on David (the Delorme GPS and Map kit to make sure of our position, before heading to sleep. The computer said no GPS device detected. Phil said it was working before just fine before, in an accusitory tone. Somehow I do have a way of screwing up the electronics. I knew I had not done anything wrong. We used the inmarsat position and found we were too far to the west. We clicked in some easting. David was dead.
At four I got up for my watch. Phil said there were lots of ships around and we were now too far to the east. He wanted to go right down 79 55 longitude. We were at 79 44. I was still tired. It was hot and stuffy down below with all the portholes and hatches closed. I hadn't used the electric fan because I didn't want to waste electricity. I don't think I had slept. I thought he had clicked in some west before he went to bed. I asked him to leave the inmarsat running; because the Magellan handheld GPS was known to give wrong positions. Phil said lucky you, you get to see the sun rise, I think I had finally reached the point where I really didn't care anymore. I watched the tall silver backed waves lit by the full moon, turn into a dull battle ship gray. So much for the sun rise, it was cloudy. I checked our position with the Magellan. It said we were still to the east, running down 79 49 longitude. I clicked in some more west. I looked down the companionway. I really should check our position, with the inmarsat. Seven swaying steps down. I didn't have the energy to go down the slippery ladder. The radar showed land sixteen miles ahead. Lots of ships pointing toward us like, baseballs coming out of a batting machine. It was seven a.m.Friday morning, something didn't feel right. It was very windy. I got Phil up. I just wanted help.
Stewart and I had pretty much reached our limit. I fed him a handful of Hills CD, his dry cat food, which unfortunately is a tiny round ball. He has to eat them fast, otherwise they roll right out of his dish. He looked at it, took a few bites and then went forward and barfed all over his white rug. He was depressed because I was no longer hugging him. With all the flying fish he had been eating and a cat's nasty habit of cleaning themselves after they eat; he managed to coat his fur with a greasy, sticky, slimey fishy smelling residue. Hugging him was a little like petting an empty sardine can. The rest of his cat food balls rolled out of the dish and began skittering around the floor. A bag of whole wheat flour, had some how come loose in the pantry and was now shooting out plumes of flour dust between the slats in the louvered door. The boat was now a full fledged garbage scow. "We are way off course. We are ten miles to the east" Phil said. "What were you doing on your watch?" We were beginning to get snappy at one another. We would have to gybe to get back on course. So we furled the main, left the jib up, turned the engine on to charge the batteries, and began the surf toward the Panama Canal, dead down wind. I tried cleaning up down below and to give some comfort to poor Stewart, who wanted to go back to Maine.
Five miles out I began calling the Cristobal signal station. They did a very good job guiding us to the canal breakwater. Phil and I were amazed at the unbelievably poor design of one of the most important breakwaters in the world. It is just a small open mouth facing directly Northeast., one quarter of a mile wide. It was a little like running an inlet. The water just outside the mouth took on a gross Gatorade green color, Phil manned the tiller and we shot through the opening on breaking seas, like a raft shooting the rapids, just a head of a huge car carrier going the other way. We had made it to Panama.
We were directed to the yacht anchorage in the "flats" and anchored out beyond all the other sorry looking vessels flying tattered flags from many foreign countries. They looked like they had been here for awhile. A few US boats, were scattered around, looking like they were in a little better shape. We anchored, hung the "Q" flag and Panamanian flag I had made in Florida and began trying to clean the sticky smelly boat that was our home.
I gave Stewart some Sub Q fluids, as he was dehydrated, wishing I could do the same to Phil and myself. We settled for a cold Red Stripe beer out of the ice box and tuna fish sandwiches, my first real food in days. I decided I had to give Stewart a bath in the sink, an undertaking he really resented until it was over. I think he felt better afterwards. He smelled much better and now was huggable.
The books said Quarantine inspectors, DEA agents and all sorts of other officials would come to the boat. We waited, relatively cleaned up, but no one arrived. Phil fixed the wind generator, and worked on the gas sniffer. We have Dad bringing us another David, when he comes down. David1 appears to have cured himself, as he is working again. But we still should have a back up. Of all our fancy shmancy electronics, David is really the most valuable. I think all the electronic things just got wet and tired. The toilet has never been working properly since we bought it. Phil added some Sealube and that seems better too.
The following day, Saturday, we decided to take the dinghy in to the yacht club. We took the brief case containing all the ships papers and wearing some fancy duds, headed off getting totally soaked by the stiff chop in the process. We landed at a rickety wooden dock, one that made the docks in Jamaica look like Club Med and walked around looking for guidance.
One would think with the Panama Canal and all the boats that go through it, that there would be an influx of money in the surrounding region. If money is being made in the canal, it is not going to Cristobal or Colon. Cement six story high rises surround the yacht club.Television antennas stick out of the windows like twisted feelers on some huge cement insect. It is hot, but slightly overcast. Strong Northeast tradewinds continue, keeping it somewhat cool. US style school buses brightly repainted with air brushed graphics and stainless steel upright souped- up exhaust pipes serve as local buses. Buildings seem forlorn and run-down. We were not hounded by the locals as soon as we touched shore, in fact we sort of felt invisible. We found the yacht club office and began asking questions about the whole process-customs, quarantine, immigration, cruising permit, admeasurement for canal transit, fees, etc. While there, the customs guy happened to walk in. We went to his office and presto, practique was granted. No money was exchanged. We walked to immigration, with two stamps in our passports, we were in. The cruising permit place was closed. We bought a phone card and began the calls for getting the boat through the canal. A woman is to arrive on Monday to measure the boat and check our lines.
Surprised at how easy everything was going, where we had heard horror stories of all the red tape, we decided to go to the bar and have a beer and some fries. We sat at a table and listened into some cruisers sitting at the table next to us. A young girl was talking to two older sun, shriveled foreigners about their experiences with heavy weather, the topic on everyone's lips since it has been so horribly windy.
One guy was talking about the storm he was in near New Zealand. "Were you scared or sick?" she asked. 'No', he replied and then added ‘how he had heard of cruisers who spent six years in a circumnavigation taking anti-seasickness drugs'. I furtively, reached up behind my ear to make sure I had removed my tell-tale scopolamine patch, a sure mark of a land-lubber. "Can you imagine" he added, in between puffs of his Marlboro cigarettes, "going around the world like that- imagine what it is doing to your liver and kidneys." He obviously doesn't give much thought to his own lungs.
On our way back to the boat we passed by a somewhat rundown sloop from some Brittish colony. A naked shriveled guy walked to the stern of the boat and proceeded to piss in the water. We won't be drinking any water we make in this harbor. In fact, the whole holding tank thing is a mystery. In Jamaica they asked us if we have a holding tank. Yes we told them, but then they don't have any pump out stations. That appears to be the case here also.
One of the things we found out when we arrived in Jamaica, is that LOTS of people listen in to Herb to get weather information. Very few boats actually talk to Herb, relying on the weather information he gives to the boats in their area, since he groups all the boats by location. When we arrived in Jamaica, everyone was curious to see what Iwalani and her crew actually looked like. It was kind of a funny feeling realizing so many people had been listening to us. On Friday afternoon we again checked in with Herb, telling him we got in safely. He seemed amazed we were here already. "What are your plans now?" he asked. Propagation was terrible, he couldn't really hear us. Phil told him we were going to go through the canal and then... "Oh, they don't know where they are going" Herb said. One thing I have learned, Herb is always right.APW
Log for the week of February 18, 2001 by PS
After Amy's log last week, you may be wondering where we are headed next. Well I can tell you that we can't head back to Maine yet. There is a gale off the coast of Columbia directly in our path. 35 knot winds and 18 foot seas. No thanks! While conditions weren't very good for our passage from Jamaica, there were some positive points. Because conditions didn't change, we didn't have to put sails up and down. Also, the wind generator was more then able to keep up with the power demands of running the radar, autopilot, etc., 24 hours a day. So basically, for five days we didn't have to do much except watch out for ships. Now don't get me wrong. I have no intention of repeating our experience. We could have had as fast a passage with 12 knots of wind, full sail and 3-foot seas. These are the conditions we will be looking for in the future.
Back to this weeks log. The theme for this week is processing paperwork. Every country seems to have it's own routine. Why can't there be a standard? I say it's all a power trip. We got lucky with customs on Saturday. The customs man was very nice. He spoke fair English and was very helpful. On Sunday we went to find immigration. The yacht club gave us a pretty good map, but we still had to ask directions. There are no signs on the buildings, so it was kind of hit or miss. When we found the immigration officer he was watching the TV. (This is not the only place we would see employees at work watching TV) He turned to his teller type window and stamped our passports and asked for a $5 overtime fee in Spanish. It's been many years since I learned the language, but we got the point. It was Sunday after all. He did have a pretty nice TV and not too much work. Ah bureaucracy. Then it was back to the club for dinner. They have a Chinese cook. He makes good food and the prices are right. $10 for the two of us. Then we called the admeasures office to set up an appointment. This is so our equipment can be checked and the boat measured for fees. Any yacht transiting the canal needs 4 lines, 125 feet long and 7/8 inch in diameter. You also need five people on board, one to steer and four to handle lines. It amazed me how many yachts were not prepared for this. The Brits seemed the most inclined to cheat the system. They would borrow lines from other boats for the inspection, then give them back, only to be in desperate straights when the actual transit time came. People can rent lines for $60. For those of you who think this is steep, consider this. Someone has to get the lines returned to their point of origin, about 50 miles. The taxi drivers offer this service. I don't think $60 to get the use of the lines and having them returned over 50 miles is that bad.
Monday morning we had our inspection. We were a little apprehensive because if we were over 50 feet the fee would be $750 instead of $500.When I measured Iwalani after she was built, she was just 50 feet. "Jaz" was our admeasurer. She was in her late twenties and quite a talker. After filling out about a dozen forms and measuring the boat (at 49.3 feet!) we were cleared for the next step. Paying the Canal Authority. We headed ashore to find the Citi Bank. It was the only building with a sign! The temperature inside was like a morgue, icy cold and had the synthesized organ music to go along with it. The teller was very helpful and took our credit card information. It turns out that not only is there a $500 fee, but there is an $800 deposit in case we damage their locks. $1,300 later we were off to our next stop, the Port Captains Office. This was much more difficult to find, but 20 minutes of wandering brought us to a small office with a secretary that didn't know much English. She handed me a form, which was completely in Spanish. Aggg. Did you know that "Caballos de Fuerza" means Horsepower? After staring blankly for a few moments she brought over another form that had the English translations. Before we finished the forms she asked if we had our stamps (gotten across to us by showing some on another yachts paperwork) "No" we said. By sign language and some Spanish, she directed us to another bank across the street where we bought 4 stamps for $4. Then it was back to the Port Captains Office to sign more paperwork and pay $65 for a 3-month cruising permit. Whew. We called it a day and headed for the yacht club bar.
Tuesday we moved in closer to shore, as the wind and seas were a bit much out on the "fringes" where we first took refuge. We also got on the morning VHF "net" and Amy announced that she was a Veterinarian and if anyone needed her services to come on over to the boat. A little while later "Pete Wilson" came over and said he had a Burmese cat with a lump on his throat. Amy said to bring him by on Wednesday morning and she would have a look at him. The rest of the day was spent working on the sun awning and making trips to the diesel dock at the club. On my first diesel run I had to go behind the counter to get the lady's attention. She was busy watching TV. Another employee getting paid to watch music videos. And I though Jamaica was "laid back".
Wednesday Amy operated on the cat and removed a benign cyst. The cat was going to be fine. Amy was very happy to be "Back at work" so to speak. She really misses treating animals.
I continued the diesel runs, $21.50 each time. All went well till I ran out of exact change. When I showed the lady behind the counter a $50 she said she didn't have change. I said "What about giving me a credit", as I planned to make one more run. "No I can't do that. The auditor comes every day and checks the books." "OK" I said and stormed out to the restaurant 20 feet away and got change. When she came out to see me again she had a big grin on her face. I'm sure she was thinking "I'm showing that gringo who's in control here." Then it was back to the TV for her. To balance out the day, we got a taxi ride to the local supermarket. Leslie Ellington "Duke", our driver, spoke excellent English and was a tremendous help. After we loaded up our shopping cart, we realized that it would cost more then we had in cash. I went outside to see "Duke" about our trouble. He said "How much do you need? I'll lend you some money" I said "No thank you, but do they take credit cards?" "Do you have your passport?" Doh! No we didn't. "Not to worry" he said. He went inside and spoke to our checkout clerk. I'm not sure what he said but she rolled her eyes and let us through, with credit cards and no passports. Good people are always a blessing. Our bag boy was about 12 years old and was the hardest young worker I have seen. We gave him a tip for his efforts. Little did I realize just how I should have tipped him more. We drove away from the market on our way back to the club. Traffic was thick so it was slow progress for about a quarter of a mile. We pulled up to a stop sign, and who should knock on our window but the bag boy. It seems that we left a package of Brie cheese at the market and he had run after us to deliver it. When was the last time you saw that kind of dedication in a bag boy? We celebrated Valentines Day with some frocaccia and a quiet meal on the boat.
Thursday morning Amy's dad got a ride to the yacht club from Panama City. He had flown in the night before. Roger ("Rojilio") the dock master at the club gave him a ride, as he lives in Panama City. He charged about half of what it would have cost to take a taxi. We got a call on the VHF at 8:15 telling us he had arrived and went ashore and had breakfast. John told us that his check in baggage was lost. It held some of his clothes and boat gear for us. I didn't give it much hope as he also told us that some of the baggage (other peoples) that did make it was obviously sliced open with a knife and rifled through. And, while waiting in customs at the airport, a lady's camera bag was stolen when she set it down for a minute to get out her passport. This was right at the customs counter! Wow. To say I was a little nervous about Ben and Nathaniel's arrival is putting it mildly. In the afternoon we had a visitor from another boat come by. On her way over, the engine on her dinghy died and another cruiser came to her rescue. She got towed over and we got a real surprise. It turned out that the person doing the towing was a client of Amy's from Maine with a cat named Floofy. We had seen them off on the start of their cruise, from Maine, almost two years ago! Andy and Diane bought a boat, sold their house and started the "It must be nice" life; but they really were living it. They planned to sell their land in Maine and continue short day hop cruising It was a great reunion. We got together on their cutter "Spirit Born" and swapped stories for quite a while. They were amazed at how quickly we covered ground. They have been day hopping since they left Maine. Their longest passage was 4 days. They couldn't get over the fact that we left St Augustine 4 weeks ago with only two stops between there and Panama. We told them that "Day Hopping" was in our future. They had a new kitten with them and Dr Amy decided it was time for this male to loose some of his parts. An operation was scheduled for the following day. Floofy seemed pleased. He was getting tired of kitty antics and attacks.
Friday Amy became surgeon and had a successful operation. Then we went ashore to arrange a tour of the Smithsonian's Research Center here on the canal. Amy had been trying desperately all week No-one answers the phone. We have tried leaving messages with the club fax number, still nothing. I think the Smithsonian is really missing out on a great opportunity. A captive audience (i.e. cruisers transiting the canal) to spread the knowledge of the rain forest. Barro Colorado Island was formed when the land between the locks was flooded. It became an oasis to the surrounding wildlife.
Friday 16th 3pm. Well it looks like we will be going to the research station. We've made arrangements with "Duke" to pick us up at 6:30am on Sunday morning. We also got our transit time changed to Monday. John's baggage arrived from the airport untouched. So now we have a second DeLorme GPS receiver and two Wal-Mart spotlights. We'll let you know how they hold up. Right now the boys should be sitting in Newark Airport waiting to board the 5pm flight to Panama. I hope they are having good weather. It's impossible to get any weather information on the local TV news. I've watched for days without seeing anything about the weather. Maybe it stays so constant there is nothing to report. That is certainly the case since we arrived. As part of Amy's bartering for vet work, we were able to borrow some charts and get them copied at the local copy store. 4 foot charts for $1.50 each! Now we can cruise the East Coast of Central America on our way back to Maine. Next I re-organized the lazzerette. The paint cans we put in zip-loc bags have rusted. I am going to try putting the paint in old soda bottles. I hope they don't leak. At 7pm Rojilio drove us to the Panama International Airport. This was our first drive outside of town. All the houses and businesses had bars on their windows and doors, even up to the second floor. Rojilio said that it was to keep out thieves and criminals. I've seen rancher's fence in their yard to keep out the animals, but I wasn't ready for this. Imagine being a prisoner in your own house! We arrived at the airport at 9pm. The boy's flight was delayed till 11pm, so we had time to kill. I thought I'd get a magazine to read, only to discover there were no magazine stores! Wow, international airports without a book store. Once again the entertainment was TV. Every patron of the airport was watching the Miss Pacific Pageant on the TV monitors. Oh well, we went "native" and joined in. The boys made it through customs by 11:30 and we took a scary taxi ride to the airport. I don't think the taxi drive could read the speed limit signs. I saw 80km on the signs and 130km on the speedometer! We made it to the Golden Tulip Hotel alive and were hoping to get a different driver for the ride back to the yacht club the following day. The hotel had a few third world features, no toilet paper and no hot water etc.
Saturday we were trying to check out of the hotel, but were second in line. It seems that the people ahead of us were arguing about just how many breakfasts they should be paying for. It was all in Spanish, so I didn't get any of it. After 20 minutes, Amy couldn't take it any more. She had been able to get the gist of the conversation, and headed out the door to find a taxi. Two minutes later, we were headed out of town. For all we know, they are still arguing over breakfast fees. The ride back was much more relaxed and had air-conditioning. On top of that, only cost $50. We were told it would be over $60.When we arrived at the yacht club, Amy got a ride out to Iwalani and returned with our dinghy. Soaking wet I might add. That is a problem of the heavy winds. The best way to deal with it, is to put your clothes in a waterproof bag and wear you bathing suit on the way in! We turned in early because we needed to leave at 6:30am Sunday to catch the 8:00am ferry to Barro Colorado Island (BCI).
The alarm went off at 5:45am. So much for the "It must be nice" lifestyle. We had some trouble getting the boys up. I think I heard once that the teenage "Awake" cycle is late in the afternoon. Anyway, we got on the road at 7:00am. The taxi driver "Duke" did his best to get us there on time, including bluffing a policeman. The policeman had set up a checkpoint and was stopping cars that passed. I couldn't tell what the "Duke" was saying at the time, but after we passed Amy said “Why did you tell him we were from Panama? "Because if they think you are a tourist, they want to hustle you. Get $5 each from you if they can" Duke said. Saved once again by a "good person". We arrived at the ferry dock at 8:15. The ferry had already left. Amy was almost in tears. Earlier, when we were waiting for the boys at Iwalani, she threatened to leave without them. I think that now she wished she did. It wouldn't have helped. We still would have been too late. The Duke asked the guard at the gate about renting a boat and he directed us to a local marina about 10 minutes away. We arrived at the Summit Resort and Marina and charted a fast pontoon boat arriving at BCI while the passengers were still getting off the ferry. Once again our luck was holding. A Panamanian named Gido led the tour of the island. He was a biologist for the Smithsonian. Along our 3-mile hike we saw large buttressed trees (photo), iguanas, anteaters, army ants which form a nest with their bodies (see photo) butterflies, agouti (large guinea pigs) and white-faced monkeys and lots of amazing rain forest trees and plants. Back at the cafeteria we had our best meal in Panama. Lightly fried fish, rice, green salad and fruit. After lunch we went to the site of the original research station built in the 1930's. It is now a visitor center and gift shop. (kind of tacky). It did have a replica of an original researchers housing. Just a desk, bed and some scientific instruments. You could visualize a researcher sitting at the desk, sweat dripping from his brow in the tropical heat, contemplating some new discovery. That's a long way from what they have now, running water, air conditioning, etc.2:30 we boarded the ferry back to the mainland and headed back to Colon with "Duke". When we got back to Iwalani we discovered that our transit time for the canal was 5:15am. Once again, so much for "It must be nice" life. PS
Log for the week ending February 25, 2001 Colon, Republic of Panama to Balboa, Panama via the Panama Canal, by APW
I am very glad to be out of Colon. Despite the fact that it is spelled like an anatomical body part, it is pronounced like cologne, a true paradox. I had a mini-melt down, a few days before my Dad arrived, when Phil said he wanted to transit on Tuesday instead of Monday. I told him I hated Colon and wanted to get out as soon as possible. Hate. I was using the word hate. It was hot; the continuous heavy trade winds were getting on my nerves. Each time we took the dinghy in to shore I was soaked. I spent my entire time in Colon, soggy or soaked. While we were at anchor Iwalani pitched and heaved like a hobbyhorse, making boarding difficult and causing me a lot of unnecessary anxiety over whether my father would be able to climb up on board. The air was hard to breathe, heavily laced with smoke from burning on shore and exhaust from the huge ships at anchor waiting to go through the canal. A black film had to be hosed off Iwalani every day. The city was dangerous and depressing. People had not figured out what to do with trash. It was dumped along the road and smoothed around with bulldozers to fill low spots. I got Montezuma's revenge from eating fried wantons at the Panama Canal Yacht Club. I didn't know what they were, so I tried ordering them to be different. The only good thing about Colon was that I actually could do Veterinary medicine again. That helped cure some of my homesickness.
All the taxi drivers and even Diane and Andy on "Spiritborn" put the fear of Balboa in our heads. "You're not going to like it. People hate yachts there. The Pacific is cold. The taxi drivers will rip you off. Stay in the Caribbean, you haven't gotten to any of the nice spots" It was tempting, but with Ben, Nathaniel and my Dad as line handlers we were going to go through and at least say that Iwalani has touched Pacific water. Our transit was scheduled for Monday and I was ready to go.
The French started the Panama Canal in 1879, after they entered into an exclusive contract with the government of Columbia, who owned the land where the canal was constructed. The French had tried to make a canal that was completely at sea level. They were running into trouble with the Chagres River; a river with a tremendous flow of water. Their plans called for an aqueduct over the river. The French sold shares of stock to finance the canal, which became extremely valuable and then like the DotCom stocks of today, plummeted to worthless strips of paper, when word got out of the tremendous cost overruns and large numbers of workers dying from yellow fever and malaria. One French engineer had drawn up plans for using the Chagres as a source of water to fill locks, a strategy overlooked by the French officials at the time, but which later became the accepted model. In 1902 a bill in the US congress was introduced to buy up the bankrupt French company, provided a treaty could be made with the Colombians and provided the plans for an American/Nicaraguan canal were abandoned. The bill passed by eight votes. The French sold their rights to the Panama Canal for Forty million dollars. The Colombians saw none of this money. A treaty was made between the Americans and Colombians, which the Colombians did not ratify. The Americans offer to pay $250,000 per year to the Colombians was too little. The Colombians already owned a railroad across the isthmus, which made that much per year; the canal should make quite a bit more money than the railroad. The people in the Canal Zone wanted to secede from Columbia, if the Colombians didn't sign the treaty they would become their own Republic of Panama. The Americans would support the Panamanians if war broke out with the Colombians. Revolution broke out in 1903; American warships were dispatched to the area. Ships stood off at Colon and Panama City, while the "little guys" fought it out. The Colombians lost. Everything. Their railroad, the annual lump sum for the canal from the Americans, their land and any further rights to the canal. To say they and some of the other Latin American countries mistrust the Americans is an understatement.
Monday morning our pilot-"advisor", Rubin, arrived on Iwalani at exactly five fifteen. They are called advisors because they don't actually do any of the line handling or steering. They are included in the five hundred-dollar transit fee and if you get a good one, are a tremendous help. "Rubin" was a native Colombian, trained with the Colombian Navy and ordinarily a tug boat pilot, the last place in the world he wanted to be that early in the morning was onboard an American "yatshit" as he referred to us. Actually, in all fairness, that is how everyone down here pronounces yachts, making it into a two-syllable word. Rubin just seemed to have a little more emphasis on the last syllable. There are a lot of yachts going through this time of year, so everyone gets called in to duty. We were scheduled to transit the canal at first light with two other sailboats; a catamaran from California called “Pacific Bliss” and a sloop from France called Mallory. "Pacific Bliss" had hired two "professional" line handlers, locals who greet you at the dinghy dock and give you their card. For about sixty dollars, plus a five-dollar fee for the bus trip home, they will help boats with the line handling. They really aren't too bad of an investment. Pacific Bliss also lucked out with the senior pilot of the canal, for their advisor; with twenty years experience, he became the pilot in control. Iwalani took the starboard most position, with Pacific Bliss sandwiched in the middle. The rafting together went fine; despite doing it in a cove that was not very protected from the still howling Northerly winds. We were now a single flotilla, fifty feet long and forty five feet wide, with a total of four engines; one each on Iwalani and Mallory, two on Pacific Bliss. The senior advisor went against regulations and took the helm of Pacific Bliss, steering us into the first of three locks. He sent two of the professional line handlers over to Iwalani, so we really didn't have to do anything. Ben and Nathaniel were still in their bunks anyway.
With three boats, the line handlers on the lock throw down a messenger line; a grubby oil soaked piece of manila with a monkey's fist at the end. The messenger line is tied on to the loop at the end of our 7/8-in. nylon 125-ft. dock lines. The lock line handler walks to the end of the canal holding the end of the messenger line. When the word is given, the line handler on the yacht throws the nylon rope into the water where the lock line handler pulls it up the side of the lock. The loop is placed over a bollard at the top of the lock. The raft of boats is thus kept in the center of the lock by four lines at the bow and stern of each of the two outside boats. The inside boat doesn't have to do much line handling, but they do have to steer and power the flotilla out of the locks.
Up we went, to the top of the third lock, eighty feet in the air. The gates opened, we unrafted and off we went into Gatun Lake. Despite having just been there the day before with the Smithsonian tour, it still was pretty. No development, just low conical hills covered with rich tropical vegetation. We dodged our way through lots of small islands, the tops of lower hills that became islands with the damming of the Chagres River and creation of the locks. Iwalani charging along with staysail, jib and motor. She took the lead and until the final moments beat out the other two boats to the last set of locks at Pedro Miguel and Miraflores, where the catamaran finally caught up and passed us. The other boats had taken bets we would be last.
At Gamboa, we felt a change in the air. It became less humid; the howling Caribbean Northerly eased off. We were getting near the Pacific. It was hot but drier. It was only ten thirty in the morning and we were half way through the canal. It looked like we would do the whole thing in one day. Ben and Nathaniel were still in their bunks. The experienced advisor got off Pacific Bliss in Gamboa, a younger guy, a Tom Cruise wanna-be, with mirrored sunglasses got on. He was also Colombian and had gone to school with our advisor Rubin. It was a joyful reunion. At Pedro Miguel locks we again had to raft up. It went well only because Phil could maneuver Iwalani. Rubin and the second advisor Tom Cruiso, were still speaking rapidly to each other in Spanish, catching up on long lost classmates. It immediately became apparent we had a problem. With no senior pilot, we were flying down the length of the thousand-foot lock at eight knots rafted together with Rubin and Cruiso gibbering away. Ahem, I said to Rubin don't you think we are going to fast? He looked forward and realized we had only seventy-five feet left before we crashed into the gates at the end. "Full Stop" "Full stop" Rubin and Cruiso ordered. We had already passed our nylon lines to the lock line handlers, despite having gotten no word to do so. Mallory had not. They were just attached to the lock by the manila messenger line. Of course the messenger line couldn't hold on to one hundred thousand pounds of boats. Over we went to the right hand side of the lock. Iwalani rubbed up against the wall, gently, no damage done, while Mallory scrambled to pass over the nylon lines. Amazingly they didn't have 7/8 in nylon line. What's up with that? I asked Rubin, how come they got to use what looked like braided running rigging? As it turned out we probably didn't need to bring the 600 feet of 7/8 line with us. The books make a bigger deal of the lines than the canal authorities. After Phil and I gave Rubin a piece of our mind, the raft of three boats had to motor tied as one, through Miraflores Lake, to the last two locks. Rubin and Cruiso seemed to be paying more attention to the job at hand and again two of the Pacific Bliss line handlers went to Iwalani and Mallory, for the final two locks. We were told that the last lock has a tremendous outflow current once the doors open to the Pacific. The professional line handlers would be manning the lines at the stern, which required a bit more strength. I was manning Iwalani's bow line. The lock line handler threw down the messenger line. I tied it to my loop and watched the lock line handler walk down the canal, holding his end of the messenger line. Suddenly I saw it. A three foot splinter of wood at the top of the lock, peeling off from the uppermost wood beam. I pointed and said "watch out". The lockline handler smiled and waved. He must know it is there, I thought. Nope. The messenger line got caught in it. "Stop" I yelled, "Its stuck" Phil wasn't taking orders from me, because I wasn't in charge. He was only going to do what the advisors told him to do. I had two choices at that point. Make my end fast and hope the messenger line would break or start paying out nylon line, until someone else made a decision. I started paying out line. Cruiso caught on to what was happening and yelled, "Slack the line" "Slack the line". Now of course there are three other lines besides mine. The other three didn't know he was yelling, "slack the line" just to me, so everyone began paying out line. Sure enough the messenger line to the stern of Iwalani also got stuck on the same splinter. The raft was now completely out of control. Lock guys were scrambling over the side to free the stuck messenger lines. Iwalani swung rapidly toward the canal side. No bang or crash. Just a big fart sound, as she squooshed like a tube of toothpaste against the side. We had four orange mooring balls on the lock side for fenders, against Pacific Bliss we used four trash bag covered tires. Our mooring balls went lozenge shaped, but never popped. They protected Iwalani from serious damage. Seem compound squeezed out of the bulwark planks, but that was it for damage. The other boats were fine.I next had to unfoul the old messenger line from the Nylon Line. All linehandlers should carry knives. Everyday I usually carry a knife, but I was wearing a bathing suit and they don't have pockets. I quickly remembered the sheathed knife we have tied to the life raft cannister and used that to cut off the old messenger line. After two throws tof the new messenger line, we were back in business.
The big steel doors swung open and out of the canal we raced. The skipper of Pacific Bliss was in control steering the flotilla out of the chamber. He must not have been used to the added width; in any event we were not being steered straight and were caught up in the powerful current. Iwalani once again was headed for the canal side, this time bowsprit first. Phil quickly put Iwalani in gear and in full throttle, (which thanks to Roger Holzmacher who gave us this throttle shift control- it is all one heavy duty lever) slammed the tiller to starboard, and with our rather large rudder, steered the flotilla back to center and out the lock doors.
We were in the Pacific. We made our way over to the Balboa yacht club and tied to a mooring. Balboa is a huge improvement over Colon. The yacht club has a nice pool, clean showers, small restaurant and bar. It does not have telephones or laundry facilities. The price is $35 to join the club as a transient and .50 a foot for the mooring and launch service. There is no dinghy dock and the eighteen-foot tides make hauling a dinghy out on shore a little rough. We went in to the yacht club for supper and watched Nathaniel get progressively more sick with a bad cold he picked up on the airplane.
Monday night I had a rotten time sleeping. We were without the perpetual motion provided by the anchorage in Colon, but the pilot boats for the ships transiting the canal left huge wakes which would make us pitch. I also felt something biting me. I turned on the light and found to my horror, that I was covered with tiny little ticks. We had been warned about the ticks at the Smithsonian research station, going as far as wearing long pants, socks and taping the cuffs of my pants was not enough. While on the island I found a tick that looked like the Dermacentor variety from home. "What's the big deal?" I thought. These are easy enough to deal with. The ticks that were on me, were a variety I had never seen before, they made the deer ticks that carry Lyme disease look huge. These guys were minute, as such it made killing them difficult. The next morning I woke up with my torso covered in itchy red papules.
Tuesday we found a laundromat where we left our four loads of laundry for wash, dry and folding for a grand total of $7.50. Went in to Panama City for Internet ($2.50 and hour) and went to the chart store (Islamorada) where my Dad bought us some charts of Costa Rica and Panama (expensive at $18.00 ea.) and some "cruising guides". Our afternoon taxi ride was $15.00, a lot less than Colon. That night I still was bothered by bugs biting me. Phil was fine and was beginning to think I was losing my marbles. The next morning I had more red itchy papules. Bed bugs. It must be bed bugs. I washed the sheets and sprayed everything down with an insecticide. Phil said there was nothing bothering him.
The next morning, I wanted to take Iwalani for a sailing picnic. This was met with a less than enthusiastic response from the crew under twenty years, but we left any way for Taboga Island, a high volcanic island eight miles away from Balboa, with the sheets from our bed drying on the lifelines. After the experience with laundry in Jamaica I do laundry in two parts, after I see how the first batch comes out I do the next batch. I hate fleas, cockroaches, lice and mites and am scared of my clothes somehow picking them up.
Both boys stayed in their bunks the whole way to and from Taboga, with Ben emerging once to take photos. They missed a rather nice island. Phil, Dad and I rowed ashore and left the dinghy on a pretty sandy beach. We saw some round umbrellas under some trees, like the kind used for public eateries and headed for them hoping for lunch. We were met at the gate by a fellow who spoke no English. I thought I understood him to say we had to spend fifteen dollars for the three of us, and would have to buy fake money. What was he talking about? I understood the part about the fifteen dollars, but what was this phony money thing? We sat down at a table and sure enough Dad handed over fifteen US dollars and received fifteen Tabogan dollars, money that looked like Monopoly money stapled in bundles of five. We had an ok lunch and he paid with the Monopoly money while Phil and I walked around town. If you had to live in Panama this would be the place to be. You would have to like human companionship, as all the houses are crowded together. Interestingly, all the housing in Panama is clustered. Our Panamanian guide at the Smithsonian said that Panamanians are scared of the Rain forest. There are 236 mammalian species and half of those are bats, including vampire bats. Those are usually found near cattle and fields not forests, so I don't know what the fear is. Snakes, maybe. Anyway this fear has resulted in a lot of land that is uninhabited- Panama has more rain forest turned over to National Park than Costa Rica. Even on Taboga there was a lot of undeveloped space.
That night Phil's greatest fear was realized. He found an engorged tiny tick on his rear end. It had made a huge bruise and welt. But, I suffered no more from bug bites. Obviously the tick was frustrated at not finding any blood on me and after multiply stabs at engorgement, finally got smart and headed over to "Phil the furnace" where it finally found the motherload.
Thursday we hung out at the pool. In the afternoon Dad, Phil and I took a cab ride to the end of the causeway that runs along the canal ending at Flamenco Island. Part of the road has been closed off and is used for walking, jogging and bike riding and is very safe, clean and a nice place to stretch ones legs. It was once part of the US military base. The United States left a lot of pretty nice property down here. When the walkway was built, every three hundred feet curved walled patios were put in under big Panamanian trees; they look a little like the Patio from the house in the Sound of Music. They have nice benches and a view of the canal and volcanic islands in the distance. They face the setting sun so it is rather romantic. Most of the US bases have been turned into college and Universities or police academy's. The housing on the causeway, perhaps the nicest of all we have seen, is falling on to hard times and is in disrepair. I think the Panamanians are a little overwhelmed with the maintenance on the property they inherited. There are no lawn mowers left by the US, but the Panamanians are doing a noble job of landscaping armed with weed whackers.
The Panamanians are very nice and helpful people. In Colon despite the poverty, more people spoke English. In Balboa and Panama City, few people speak English, or if they do they pretend not too. It won't be long before the US presence is totally forgotten.
I have known a few men who have left their wives for Panamanian women. It is easy to see why this happens. The women are quite pretty and dress in provocative short tight skirts and high heels. They have pretty much paid little attention with Women's Lib. Why bother? With a wink and a crook of the finger they can get a man to do anything for them. They do not garden. (Brakes too many fingernails) and they wouldn't be caught dead rowing a boat, changing a tire, painting the house etc. With the exception of the Kuna Indians who make beautiful hand sewn molas, or fabric appliqued paintings, the Panamanian woman's creativity goes into presenting herself. This became apparent to me in the ladies room at the airport. I found myself at the end of a long line almost extending out the door. As I got closer, I realized the line wasn't for the toilets, as it would be in the States, this line was for the mirrors. I kid you not.
So what do I think is going to become of the canal? The canal is in tough shape. A lot needs to be done with maintenance and construction. It is old, after all. The boats that go through are not huge; they are limited to less than a thousand feet in length and 110 feet wide. Most of the ships going through are cruise ships, smallish containerships, car carriers, small oil tankers, grain ships and US destroyers. I have a fear that the Colombians have not forgotten what we did to them. We basically screwed them out of a valuable resource. Its no wonder they are in the drug business. I have heard from a lot of people that Colombian groups are stockpiling weapons in the hills. There is no way to drive an auto from the US to the tip of Argentina. Roads end in Columbia and any vehicles that make it that far are never heard from again. It would be easy for the Colombians to do something to the dam on the Chagres River, since this really controls the canal. I have asked Panamanians if they feel this threat looming over them. Many do, but they feel confident the US will be there to bail them out of trouble. The average ship pays $45,000.00 to transit the canal. Yachts make out pretty well, all things considered. I still haven't been able to see where this money is going. With such a valuable resource you would think that Panama would be extremely affluent. The cab drivers tell me that the money goes to the politicians. Yet, the cab drivers themselves are a huge source of revenue.
It is back to life as usual on Iwalani; both the boys and Dad left on Friday. We have a lot to do before we head off again. We still haven't made the awning, I have a painting to do for John and Carol, we need engine parts and we need to find out why Iwalani is now starting to smell like a baby diaper left out in the sun. Balboa is quite comfortable; it wouldn't be hard to stay here for awhile. There are no bugs, the temperature is hot, but not intolerable and there is always a nice gentle breeze. Sitting out in the cockpit at night, its fun to watch the big ships pass a few hundred feet away heading to and from the canal. Right now we are both blowing our nose and coughing, sick with colds, the only evidence left by the boys after their visit to Panama. APW