Sailing from the Caribbean to Australia – Part 2

Panama Canal, Colon and Panama City

(After leaving San Blas and sun has set makes for a pretty scene)

Arriving Panama Canal and Colon

17 06 2007 Panama Canal

We sailed through the night from San Blas and as we neared the Panama Canal shipping traffic became very busy, it was a good night’s easy passage now for a bit of a hectic time. We neared the Panama Canal entrance into Colon not that we are going that far in as we had decided to go into Shelter Bay Marina which is just inside the entrance and up a channel to the starboard side.

(Shipping lanes are busy here, ships are coming from all directions

I called Panama Control on the radio three times and did not get an answer. I was watching out for ships going everywhere so I asked Nancy to give them a call and they answered straight away. I said to her you have got that job from now on. They gave us permission to enter and stay on the starboard edge until we turn off. As we approached the marina Nancy called them on the radio and they told us where we should berth. They were there to meet us and help secure us. The marina is the old Navy depot that the USA had before they handed the canal back to the Panamanians and now has been turn into a flash marina.

(Our Alana Rose in the marina)

(Part of the marina the building is the workshop where Anderson lives when he is not working)

When we went to the office to book in, I told them that I had to clear in with the Port Captain, the young lady told me that it is weekend and I could catch the courtesy bus into Colon in the morning and do that. She also warned us about Colon, do not walk the streets, use our courtesy bus , it goes to the Safe Shopping Centre and back twice per day and to the Port Captain and bus terminal if you want to go to Panama City. So it was time to clean the boat and fill up the water tanks and then relax. After finishing the work I went for a shower, well you should have seen this place, the showers are in separate rooms and the shower is a modern fibreglass case , the shower water hits you from all directions and has music you can select inside the shower cubical, they also have a spa bath. No wonder it is expensive here. After cleaned up we headed for the bar for a cold beer, at sea we have dry ship, no drinking at sea. We met Anderson the bar/restaurant Manager he could speak good English and so could most of the other staff the exception was Miguel who tried his best, Miguel was an exceptional waiter one of the very best I have seen.

18 06 2007 Monday

We caught the 0800 hour courtesy bus into clear in at the Port Captains we were joined by another Australian (Kiwi) couple and their son, they also had to clear in and others going to the safe shopping centre. When we got to the Port Captains office the Captain asked if he could help us the Kiwi said you go first so we did. The Captain asked when we arrived and I said yesterday and he blew up saying how he could fine me they run a 24/7 service and we should have come in yesterday. Then he calmed down and checked our papers noting that we were already cleared in he said there was a Port Captains fee of $10 US, I paid it no receipt given, he added it to a large roll of notes out of his pocket. The Kiwi’s had not cleared in and when they were asked when they arrived he said first thing this morning, when he cleared in and paid his dues including the Captains fee and we got outside, I asked when did you get in, he said Friday night but after what he did to you I was not going to tell him that. Graft and corruption is alive and well.

(Entering Colon)

(Colon is not a pretty place)

The courtesy bus picked us up and we went to the safe shopping centre. You may ask why it is called that. Well around the outside the shopping centre is armed guards with machine guns and pistols. Colon is not a nice place. Tourists have been stabbed and robbed, they have cut peoples fingers off to get a diamond or gold ring off.

(This is part of the safe shopping centre)

After shopping we caught the bus back to the marina, to travel to and from the marina is about a 20 minute ride one way and you have to cross Gatton Lock, where we and ships enter to go through the canal, at times we were held up there whilst a ship entered the lock, the road goes across the top of the first lock.Tonight we had dinner at the marina restaurant after having a few drinks and laughs with staff at the bar. These staff members live on site in really makeshift accommodation, Anderson has a bed in the old workshop office and others are spread in other small sheds and buildings. All the staff come from Panama City some 80 kms away, they get paid $1.29 US per hour, they cannot afford to travel back and forth each day, so they work 6 days and go home for their day off. I asked why people this end of the canal don’t work here, the reply was people from Colon don’t want to work they prefer to steal.When we sat down for dinner on the table is a bottle of red wine to entice customers to buy it, the wine was an Australian Wydham Estate Merlot, Nancy happened to comment that she like the Wydham Estate Cab/Sav and I agreed. We did not have wine that night as we had enough beer.


Cleaning boat day, we started giving the boat a clean inside and out, it is very hot and humid at the moment like the build up to the cyclone season in Darwin and of course it is the build up here for the hurricane season but we are outside the hurricane belt but still get storms. The air-conditioning is running 24/7 on the boat.  
As we were on deck some people gathered at the empty berth next to us then a large Catana  catamaran arrived, the skipper noticed I was nosed in and follow suit but the problem was that his cat was longer and a lot higher than ours therefore it was too difficult to get off. So he reversed out and started to turn around, one of his crew did not secure one of the ropes properly and it went over the side and got tangled around the props. One of his friends ashore dived in swam out and grabbed a rope and we all pulled to boat into place. The skipper was so embarrassed in front of family and friends, I just said very load so all could hear. “Don’t worry mate I have done the same myself probably won’t be the first time it may happen again”. He smiled and went to his family and friends.


Today we ordered a new water pump and engine mounts for the starboard engine, it will take a few days to get here, we had to go to Panama City to order them. So we went into town and caught the bus across to Panama City to have a look around. The bus ride cost $2 US. It is very colourful and they play movies, in Spanish, but I was a little shocked at the movies they played rather R Rated if not X Rated. But no one seems to care even the children. Panama City is way different to Colon, it is cleaner and friendlier. You still have to be on your guard for crims. The city is a very busy place but we had a good day looking around and organising the parts.

(Colourful buses, Gatun Lock and dock in the background)

(This is the entrance to the first of three Gatun Locks, the road passes over the lock gates)

(This is the lock that we will eventually enter, when inside the water fills to the top of the dark mark on the wall, there are three locks that do the same lifting you to a level of 80 metres which is the level of the lake and passage to the Panama City end of the Canal where the process is repeated through the Miraflores Locks in reverse)

The highway to and from is good and colourful in parts with their adds for the duty free shopping all aimed at the tourists. The passenger liners pull into the terminal at Colon and are conveyed by bus to Panama City. We caught a taxi back to the bus terminal after having lunch. One tip when catching a taxi, ask how much it with cost first before you get in there are no meters.  With us it was $5 US. 
We returned to the marina via the bus to Colon and then a taxi to the marina because we had missed the courtesy bus. When we returned we went to the bar for a drink, Anderson was serving us and after the first drink he asked if we were staying for dinner tonight and we said no we had lunch in the Panama today so we are good. He said have a look at the wine on your table. Miguel had searched for the Cab/Sav with the suppliers and got a carton delivered. We said we would come in for dinner tomorrow night.

(We are held up at the gates whilst a ship enters the lock)


We had a visit from our neighbour with the Catana this morning, he came to thank me for what I said, he said, “ Thank you for not making me look so bad in front of my family and friends”. He asked what we were doing and we told him about sailing to Oz. He said if there is anything he can do for us just ask. He said if you are going over to Panama City get the office here to call me and I will get my chauffeur to pick you up and drive you around, we thanked him but we never took him up on the offer. He told us that he had just bought the boat from the BVI’s and was sailing it back with his wife, his wife not being a sailor he was sailing really by himself. One morning it was a great day and he walked on to the trampoline and went through it, fortunately he grabbed the bridal rope and was being dragged along a screamed out to his wife, then he had to instruct her to take the boat off auto pilot and turn the boat around into the wind so he could get back on board. This done he had to head for a port and employ a couple of crew or his wife would not continue the voyage. He said as you saw they were not bright. Not sure what this bloke was but he used to fly himself in from Panama City each day to get work done to his boat in his helicopter .
Tonight we went for sundowners at the bar and after a couple of drinks Miguel came over and asked if we stay for dinner in his very broken English, we replied yes because we knew what he had done regarding the wine Nancy liked. He then prepared our table, a table he had allocated for us, as we seated ourselves he brought out two candles for the table and lit them. We were the only table in the place that had candles, he asked if we wanted to buy the bottle of wine that he had found for us, and naturally we had to. Miguel was an excellent waiter, I had seen him with a crowded restaurant a full tray of food near above his head winding his way around tables and at the same time looking around to see if people needed service. I told him I would take him home to Australia where he would make a fortune, it was a standing joke with us. One has to remember that this bloke was being paid $1.29 US per hour. The only benefit that these people have is that by law an employer has to pay staff a full eight hour day even if they only work for one hour.


Finally the parts have arrived, so we had to go to Panama City to pick them up when we got back I started work and replaced the water pump on the port engine then I had to get some assistance from a local bloke to change the engine mounts because I did not have a chain pulley to lift the engine. All done and tested it was time to sort out about going through the canal. At sundowners at the bar the staff said if we wanted crew to assist, because you have to have four line handlers and the skipper at the helm, they would love to do it if we could give them plenty of notice before going through. They had never been through the canal itself.

(Looks official, yes it was department of health checking that we had Yellow Fever injections which we had before leaving Australia with many others)

23/06/2007 Saturday

Today we need to go to the Admeasure office, these are the people that come and measure your boat and give you the paperwork and how much it costs to go through the canal, and then you have to pay that money into the bank.
Most sailors use an agent to organise everything to go through the canal, they are usually Taxi drivers that have learnt the system, they say when you have organised it all it will be two to three weeks before you actually go through. We were given a contact phone number for a good bloke from Ernie in San Blas  and names of who to avoid, he said they hang around the Yacht Club in Colon so this morning we caught the courtesy bus and they dropped us off there. The yacht club is a little run down probably to blend in with the rest of Colon. Many yachts anchor out in the pond which is about 2 Nms from the club, Ernie advised against this as the water is that dirty and you will get a lot of growth on the hull. We asked around about the contact we had, but did not get much help we were pointed to another agent it was Wellington a bloke we was told to avoid. So we rang the number we had and was told he is not there and the person hung up. I rang again and was told no such person live there.
So we decided to do it all ourselves, we grabbed a taxi told him were we needed to go, he did not understand, he pulled someone up on the street that spoke English, we explained to him and he said he knew where, so off we go. We ended up at the passenger terminal, not the right place, in a little dilemma, a security guard came over and we explained to him what we wanted, he put the taxi driver on the right track and we were off again.
We came to this dockyard with security guards and we pulled up there, the guards ordered us out of the car and asked what we wanted. One has to remember these people generally do not like Gringos and although we are not Americans we are still white. The guard did not understand and pulled this lovely looking lady up and asked if she spoke English she said yes and translated for us. We were searched before we could enter. We got to the Admeasure Office and a young lady served us spoke perfect English fortunate for us, we booked the Admeasure to come and measure the boat cost of $35 US. Which I thought was not expensive. She said he would be there on Monday between 0900 and 1300 hours. We went back to the taxi and got to the docks gates and the guards again ordered us out of the car, they searched us again gave us a little hard time and then said we could leave. We were probably their entertainment for the day.
We got the Taxi to drop us at the Safe Shopping Centre where we could do a little shopping and catch the 1600 hour courtesy bus back to the marina.

24/06/2007 Sunday

We decided to go with the Kiwis to the Duty Free Centre so we caught the bus to Panama City again, we arrived at the Duty Free place and it is like a little city inside a city, it is surrounded by high walls and there is only one way in and one way out. When you enter you register at the office by showing your passport and then you are given a docket. The security guards check as you go in then we are approached by a bloke who wants to be our guide and get us all the special prices for a fee of course. We decline the offer and away we go, we were told that to make sure each item you but is under $50 US, so you don’t pay any tax, the stores actually give you a docket that shows that price even if you pay more, probably for their benefit not ours.

(Some units as we leave Colon on the bus)

(Check the price of fuel, this is US gallon equals 3.75 litres)

Entering Panama City by bus)

(Many shopping centres)

(Panama City bus terminal, they say there are more buses than taxis)

(Basically advertising for the duty free shopping along the highway)

There was not that much there that we wanted, we purchased a watch and perfume for Nancy and I bought a three in one printer, which was more than $50 US on the tag but I only paid $50 US for it but they took it out of the box and put it in the bag stating that the guards will not bother looking. When we went through the exit the guards did not even look at us.I am pleased we took notice of the Canadian back in Rodney Bay who said to buy things where we see them available because the Panama does not stock items that we often require.
Whilst at the marina I have installed the HF Radio and rather than put another hole in the hull Ernie told me to get 3 inch (75mm) wide copper strap and lay it as much as I can throughout the bilge but high enough that it won’t get wet and use this as the earth for the antenna tuner. I was able to get the copper strap here from a radio place run by an American but he had little else in stock, I was after a Pactor III which is a unit that you connect to the HF radio to receive and send emails through Sailmail. He said he could get one but it would take some time.


Waiting for Admeasure and he did not show, so at 1430 hours I went to the marina office and asked about it. They said it was unusual they are usually prompt. The manager rang them and they apologised and said they would be here tomorrow.


Waiting for Admeasure Still did not show, called again promise tomorrow.


At 0900 hours there was a knock on the hull when I went out there was the Admeasure, he introduced himself and I jokingly said I wondered when you would get here, he asked what I meant and I told him about waiting here the two days for him. He sincerely apologised and stated that the reason for it could be due to the fact that the people are doing safety courses and added that he had actually been sent down from Panama City to do the job.
He measured the boat with my help and then sat down to do the paperwork. He asked when I would be paying the money into the bank , I said as soon as you give me the paperwork I will catch the next courtesy bus into town and transfer the funds into the bank. He said right if you pay this afternoon you can ring this number after 1800 hours tonight and ask if you are booked to go through quoting this number on the card, you do this every night until they tell you the date and time. I thanked him and he left.
I went into town and paid the money into the bank (US$614), at 1805 hours I rang the number and they told me to be anchored at the pond at 1600 hours tomorrow, our adviser (Pilot) will board at 1700 hours and you will then be  going through the canal. I just about fell over, what happened to the two weeks that it usually takes after payment? We had to organise everything, line handlers, eight tyres to use as fenders and four 100 foot ropes of a certain diameter, naturally it is too short notice for the marina staff so I am going to have to disappoint them.

(very expensive to hire these ropes, but what can you do, you have to have them to go through the canal, they know they got you.)

I had to hire the ropes and I found some tyres that the marina said they never had, well they have not got them now, they charged me a fortune for the ropes. Am I nervous? Yes.

We went to the bar and told the staff, they indicated that they could not do it, our Kiwi friends Moira and son Jack said they would love to do it Myra’s husband was away over at UK doing some financial stuff, Will and one of his crew Miriam said they would come with us. Will also has a catamaran that he sailed down the east coast and in rough weather the hull de-laminated so it is on the hard getting repaired.

Passage through Panama Canal


Today is the final day, we have heard so many stories about things that happen going through the canal and some are not good. This is why it would have been better to crew another boat going through so you had some experience before you actually skipper your own boat through.
Well we have our crew to assist I have made sure we are mechanically good, if you break down on the passage through the canal you are fined for holding the system up.We were told by Ernie when booking the boat through always say the boat can do 8.1 knots full speed, if it is less you can be charged more so they say. Fortunately we can do this speed with both engines. If for some reason you can’t on the day you blame the dirty canal that has put growth on the hull and this is slowing you down.
It was now time to have our final lunch at the marina bar and say our farewells, we have had some great times with these people and I think they have liked us because we treat them as equal to us which some sailors don’t.
Miguel was a little worried because all the staff had been joking with him about us taking him to Australia because we could make a lot of money with him being such a good waiter. He told them he can’t go he has family. He knew he was a good waiter and one day a week ago he went to the boss and asked for a raise, the boss said no. So he said he would leave and he did next two days he did not show, we believe the boss went to his house to negotiate, yes that’s how good he was.

(The wonderful staff at the marina, Miguel holding the bottle of wine that he got in for us, Anderson next to him at the back, I cannot remember all the names)

After saying goodbyes it was time for the crew to come aboard  and for me to show them around the boat and safety issues and what would be required of them when we go through the canal, regarding this I only know what people have told me.
The trip through the canal is in two sessions, we go through the Gatun Locks tonight and then motor through the lake and canal to Miraflores Locks tomorrow.
We left the marina and arrived at the Pond, the Pond is an anchorage area for yachts to anchor whilst waiting to go through the canal, many sailors do this rather than paying marina fees as we did.  When we arrived we anchored close by to Leigh on Mi Querida he said he was going through tonight too.
Come 1700 hours and no sign of our adviser (Pilot), they are called advisers because they are not qualified pilots they are usually tug skippers. Leigh being a little impatient calls control on the radio at 1715 hours asking about the adviser, to our surprise he is told he is not on the list to go through and to phone control on a certain number. Leigh hops in his dinghy and starts rowing, he does not have an outboard motor he rows everywhere. It is 2 Nms to the club where he can phone, I yelled out to him to come to us and use our satellite phone, which he did. There appears to be a problem with payment. What it was Leigh’s credit card is not linked to a savings account and he paid the canal passage two weeks ago, apparently when you purchase something on a sole credit card if the transaction has not been completed within ten working days the payment is cancelled.Our card is a debit card so it is our money although we pay as a credit card, however, now we are concerned as still not adviser, we call control and they inform us that the adviser will be here soon.
We have been informed that we have to take good care of the adviser as he can make it difficult or even issue fines and we must remember we are gringos to them and they are not fond of gringos. We have to feed him and we have to have sealed bottled water for him.I re-instruct the crew of what is expected of them, if we go through alone they will place us centre lock, this means that we have one lines person on both side of the boat fore and aft. Young Jack will assist his mother Moira on starboard bow, Will on port bow, Nancy port aft and Miriam starboard aft.
The men on the dock will throw a line down which has a monkey’s fist on the end, which means the end of the rope is made into a ball and they may have some lead inside the fist so if they hit you it will hurt, these dockies are very accurate with these and if you miss the line the first time they won’t miss you the second time. I make sure they all know how to make a bowline as that is how they have to tie the lines together.
The adviser arrives and quickly introduces himself and in the same breath said start engines and get the anchor up straight away, so we all spring into action, well the temporary crew follow Nancy around whilst she gets the anchor up and I start engines.
Anchor lifted the adviser states that we are going to go through Gatun Lock at 1800 hours and we have to go at full speed, so away we go, after about 10 minutes the adviser’s radio crackles and he answers, he then tells me to slow down three ships coming up behind us will go through first, they pass us, the radio goes again and he asks if we mind going through tied to a tug, I said no. This is the preferred way to go through the lock because the tug will tie up to the wall and we tie up to the tug, the tug adjust their ropes as we are raised with the water level we are just tied to the tug and go with it. Next radio call, we have to hurry again then we have to slow, the tug is not going now we will be going through by ourselves, then off again then stop and we sit there and drift, finally he says we are going through with a fishing boat which we did at 2020 hours, three hours after we left the anchorage. During all this time the adviser is asking for something to eat besides the main meal and he has drunk all the bottled water that we had for tomorrow’s adviser.

(Our adviser arriving)

(One of the few ships that go through the lock before us)

(This is what it looks like when we start to enter the first lock, it is more daunting at night from being in the dark to bright lights)

He directs us to the first lock the fishing boat in ahead of us ties up and we go alongside it and tie up.  There is a very large car carrier ship in front of us, once secured the gates close and the water swirls in. The water is not pumped in they use the water from the lake above to fill the lock, when we reach the level of the next lock the car carrier moves off, the propellers turning slowly to assist the donkeys, (Donkeys are small diesel driven engines on the dock that pull the big ships from one lock to another). We then pull away from the fishing boat and drop back whilst he leaves the wall and motors to the next dock, this occurs through the next two locks, when we go through the final lock we are directed to a place on the lake where there are some very large circular floating buoys big enough for us to tie up alongside, once secure our adviser leaves telling us that the new adviser will be here a 0600 hours in the morning make sure we have breakfast waiting for him.

(Our first adviser talking to one of the blokes on the fishing boat)

(Moira and Jack)

(Will and Miriam)

(Miriam chatting to a fisherman, she can speak Spanish)

(The crew of the fishing boat)

(Yes that is a nervous smile )

(Now in the second lock feeling a little more comfortable with that large ship in front.)

(Here we are in the lock behind the car carrier in the yellow circle)

(Here we are moving off the fishing boat to move to the next lock)

What an experience, we decide to have a feed and a few drinks, we had allocated cabins for the temporary crew members and I said open the hatches and run the fans as it is very hot and humid, I think we crashed around 2300 hours.


We woke at 0500 hours with boat movements around us, at 0600 hours on the dot our adviser arrives and he is a very nice bloke, we ask if he is ready for breakfast  and he said let’s get underway first. Once underway I asked him how we would be going through the dock today, he replied with that yacht ahead a monohull. He asked if I could catch up with that yacht, I replied yes and did so, we just sat behind it at a safe distance at 6 knots.Unfortunately today is a misty drizzling rainy day which spoils the beauty of the lake and the canal, we are not yet in the main canal with the big ships there is a short cut between some islands in the lake that small boats like ours can go and large ships can’t.

(Small islands on the lake, the lake is fresh water so they say all sea life on the bottom of the hull will die and fall off)

(This is the small boat/yacht channel in the lake)

(Now in with the big boys)

(The adviser instructing me where to go, no we haven’t blanked his face, it is rain)

(In places the canal is narrow and we pass even closer to the bigger ships)

(Pelicans fly by, they look a little different to what we see at home)

(The yacht in front is what we will raft with)

(Another large one, it is surprising how many ships go through the canal each day)

Then we get to play with the big boys and they look huge when you pass close by.When we near Miraflores Locks the adviser asks if I will be the drive boat, when you raft with the other yacht he will not use his engines is that alright, I reply with a yes. He then asks what side do you want that yacht when you raft, I reply starboard side so I can see it clearly, he said I thought so and directed the yacht to come alongside and we tied together.We will go centre lock, which means our crews will have to control the ropes as we descend in the lock holding us dead centre, the reason for this is that they do not want us near the wall, if a large ship rubs or hits the wall there is little damage if that happened to a fibreglass or wooden yacht it could do a lot of damage or even sink with the swirling water. This is the reason we have to have tyres wrapped in plastic because they have had experience with normal fenders bursting.

(The adviser chatting with Will, Miriam and Moira)

(Will discussing the bowline knot after I had shown Miriam)

(One of the working platforms in the canal, I believe this is the start of work for the widening to take super tankers)

(A bridge appears out of the mist)

(Rafted up with the other yacht)

(Rafted and waiting for ships to leave the lock)

(Chatting with the other crew whilst we wait)

(This is what we are waiting for these ships to move out)

(Will holding the port bow line ensuring we are in the centre)

(In the last lock)

We enter the first lock and the dockie throws one line down for us to tie both port ropes to the one line, the other yacht is looking after the starboard side. When the dockie gets the lines he has trouble untying the rope, I asked the crew who tied that bowline, Will said he had and I said make sure you do it properly next time and watch out when he throws the next line. Our adviser had a chuckle, he knew what I meant.

(Ready to leave the last lock)

(Panama Control and visitors Centre)

(Looking back into the lock)


(Bridge of the Americas)

(Our adviser leaves us)


(Jack and Will put the ropes through the mooring, look how black the rope is near Will covered in oil)

(Jack and Will want dirt money)

We were lucky as the next lock was the two locks together so we only had to do this twice not three times. The boat came out to meet our adviser near the Bridge of the Americans, which is similar shape to the Sydney Harbour Bridge without the four brick tower structures. We thanked him as he was a nice person, he used to be a ranger in the national parks around the lake of the canal and told us all about the different places as we travelled the canal.May I say Nancy fixed the sealed water bottle problem as the adviser yesterday drank them all, she washed the empty bottles and refilled them with water from our tanks and when the adviser asked for a drink she would hand it to him unscrewing the cap as she gave it to him, clever girl.
We proceeded to go towards the Balboa Yacht Club and pick up one of their moorings, Will and Jack tied the ropes to the mooring and came up with dirty hands, apparently there had been an oil spillage and this end of the canal was floating oil, great that is going to be on the hull and oil is not that kind to antifouling paint on the bottom that you want.
I took the crew ashore to go back to the marina, normal routine is that you pay their bus fare back but I decided to get a taxi for Moira and Jack, I didn’t feel right putting them on a bus by themselves, Will and Miriam were going to stay in Panama City for a few days and said they would look after themselves.

(The tyres wrapped in plastic to save marking the hull)

I have to take the ropes I hired to a bloke on the dock who will get them back to the marina, I don’t know how it happened but when one of the crew transferred them to the dinghy they dragged in the water and got covered in the oil floating in the canal, when I gave them to the bloke to returned and told him he laughed, maybe he thought we did it on purpose because he knows what it cost us. The tyres I had to pay the bloke a $1.00 each for him to get rid of, which means he will sell them for $8.00 each to someone going the other way.

(Alana Rose moored in the centre, moorings cost $20 US per day, every time one of those large ships pass by we rock and roll)

Well at least we are through the canal in one piece and now to enjoy a bit of Panama City.

Pacific end of Panama Canal, Balboa

Now we are at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal we can do a bit of a look around Panama City without having to worry about bus times. First of all we had to find what is safe and what is not, but today is a relax day after the last couple of days passage which was a little draining.We enjoyed a lunch at the Balboa Yacht Club and had a few drinks. This Balboa Yacht Club at present is in a makeshift open area with just a roof overhead. The original club next door burned down and the club wants to rebuild but they are having trouble with getting permission through the port authority. The Port Authority would like to get rid of the club and the yachts altogether. Not sure if there is pressure from the Flamenco Marina complex or just the port authority. The Port Authority is also trying to get rid of the Yacht Club at Colon.

(Balboa Yacht Club is where the satellite dish is, the concrete building on the right is the original club that burned down)

Well we had a great afternoon at the club and it was relaxing.

Leigh on Mi Querida got through the Panama today and he invited us over for dinner tonight. Nancy started checking what we wanted as far as shopping to store ship before we start the voyage across the Pacific. We have noted in the guide books and a blog that we have been following that the islands in the Pacific Ocean do not always have stores that we may require.

(Mi Querida  which in English means My Mistress)

Talking to Leigh he has found out that yachts go around to anchor around the point of Flamenco Island and use the dinghy dock at the marina at a cost of $5.00 US per day you use it, which is cheaper than here and you don’t have the shipping traffic like here that rocks us every time they go by. So tomorrow we intend to move out there.
We left the mooring and motored out to Flamenco and dropped anchor then went ashore to see what it was like at that area. We tied up at the dinghy dock and there are security guards at the top of the ramp, they check people that come and go, you have to pay your $5 in the office and then show them your receipt and they then keep an eye on your dinghy. It is not compulsory to pay the money but it has been said that if you don’t it is most likely that the dinghy will disappear.

(Alana Rose anchored with Panama City as a back drop this is the anchorage near Flamenco Marina)

(Stormy weather)

(Panama City from across the bay)

The marina complex is rather flash and they have all sorts of things there including restaurants, bars, and cafés and internet machines, this we needed to update this blog. It was when we were updating our blog at the internet section that we had a bit of trouble. Nancy was on the next computer to me and I happened to see something in the corner of my eye, I looked around and this well dress young man was bending down to tie his shoe lace, I watched him for a while and he moved on. At that moment I finished what I was doing and as Nancy was having problems with the computer she was on I said use this one. As she went to pick up her hand bag it was gone. I spotted the young bloke heading out the door so off I went, he was walking fast and well ahead of me and I was running after him, yes this little fat bloke can move when he has to, I caught up with him as he was going in the toilet block, he spotted me at the last minute. I grabbed him and slammed him against the wall and held him there. He had a black back pack, I told him to open it, he did and he was smart, Nancy’s bag was black and he held open one compartment hiding the other side of the behind a division in the bag, but I put my hand in and pulled out Nancy’s bag. I then grabbed him by his shirt collar and dragged him outside a yelled to everyone that this lad was a thief he had stole this bag then I let him go. A bloke approached me and said in broken English he stole your wife’s bag and I said yes and I went off to see Nancy who was very upset. She was pleased to see me with her bag. We sat and had a coffee and this big fellow came up to me and asked if it was my bag that was stolen, I laughed and said no it was my wife’s bag, he chuckled. He said the police have got the boy and they want to talk to you, so we followed this bloke to the police.

They had the boy handcuffed to a centre pole in the room, the big fellow that came for us was a biker and he and mates were having a drink when they saw me chase the boy down, apparently the other bloke that asked me about the boy earlier was a security guard and he alerted the police. The young man that stole the bag tried to catch a taxi but was stopped at the gate as they had been alerted and he ran from the taxi a couple of the bikers chased him down and gave him to the police, they also touched him up along the way.
The police asked us to identify the boy with aid from the biker who translated for us and the police. We both said yes and apparently the young man said it wasn’t him, in which Nancy replied, bullshit! It was obvious by the policeman’s face as he smiled he did not need that to be translated. They asked if we wanted to press charges and we said no he is only a boy. The police said his photo will go on the gate he will not be able to enter this complex again and police officer will take him home and let his parents know what he has done and we left.
Later that day as we walked across the car park a car diverted and came our way, it was the biker and his brother, he asked if we were alright and introduced his brother, his brother apologised to us for what had happened to us in his country, they were really nice blokes.
Well after that excitement it was time to go back on board for a quiet night.


(Flamenco Marina from the roadway to Isla Flamenco )


(Isla Flamenco (Flamenco Island) this roadway is reclaimed land joining the island to the mainland)


We went ashore again today and met up with Leigh we told him that we were looking for crew to assist across the Pacific, he said he had just let a young German couple go as he had other crew joining him. Later that day he brought them across to meet us, they had already joined another yacht “Creighton” but they were not totally happy with it. They asked us what would be required of them and we said they would have to help clean the boat take their share of domestic duties and keep watches. They asked how much they would have to pay us and we replied nothing you work your passage. Creighton’s skipper was charging them $50 US per week each. So they said they would see if they could come with us, but unfortunately Creighton’s skipper would not release their passports so we missed out. We never did get crew so we maintained the four on four off across the Pacific.

(Alana Rose )

(Nancy on the walkway from Flamenco)

(Happy bloke enjoying the good weather)

(There are two other islands joined by the road going out to Flamenco)

(More people enjoying the day)

 (It is Sunday and everyone appears to be out enjoying the weather, it is obvious that some Panamanians are a lot better off the others)

 (Family pinic by the water)

(One of the flash restaurants)

(Couple of the tourist boats)


Leigh called us on the radio this morning he said apparently yesterday when one of the other yacht’s crews were ashore they had things stolen off the yacht and apparently it occurs often out here, he was going back to Balboa moorings and he advised us to do the same. This we did we weighed anchor and motored back to the Balboa Yacht Club moorings. It is a little busier here and water  taxi’s take you to and from your boat and there are security on the dock.

(Back with the other boats at Balboa)

(Couple of other Australian catamarans)

(The Bridge of Americas)

We went ashore once settled and looked for a taxi and we got Alan a taxi driver he asked if we needed a taxi at other times and we said yes, he said if you are happy I will be here for you when you want me and you pay me at the end what you think is best. So we agreed, Alan would take us everywhere and wait for us every time he dropped us off.

(This is Alan our Taxi driver/guide)

Nancy wanted to go to the centre where the local Panamanians shop for the clothes. It is a centre that you can only go to with a local guide, Alan would be our guide. When we arrived it was hard to find a park, Alan asked if we would pay $2.00 US for a car wash, we said yes. Next thing Alan drove into this yard with scanty covered car park where guys were washing cars by hand. We paid the money and that became our car park. Well Nancy was in her element good tops and shorts for $5.00 US, they were the same quality as what you buy in the good shops in the city only the manufacturers tags have been cut off. Alan stuck close by Nancy and I was supposed to do the same. To be honest shopping for clothes with Nancy I would prefer to watch paint dry. So I walked out front of the shopping area, I wasn’t there for two minutes when this little old guy comes up to me. He said hi, you ain’t no American are you, I replied no, he said thought so where you from? I said Australia, he laughed and said a kangaroo hey. He said I thought so you don’t dress like an American.
He started to tell me about his life and about the Panama, I knew it was going to cost me money but it was interesting. He was 71 years old, his grand or great grandfather helped build the Panama Canal. He went to an American school as a boy and that is why his English was good. He said it is only here where the Panamanians can afford to shop, he said when the Americans were here looking after the canal he said Panamanians wages were $5.00 US per hour, now they have dropped the hourly rate to $1.29 US per hour. He said he was a proud Panamanian but he was not fond of what the government was doing. He chatted for a while longer and then asked, can you spare a dollar for a cup of coffee, I said sure and gave him $5.00. It was a good history piece about the place and it was better than shopping.

Today we went around the big shopping centres to start loading necessary stores and some spares as it will be a long time before we see large stores again, I think we shopped that much that we have enough food supplies to last us around five months and that would be for us and two more crew if we could have got them. Having Alan as a guide knew all the places to go.
06/07/2007 – 10/07/2007

We think we are ready and all is done so now time for some sightseeing and enjoyment.

(Lunch at the Balboa Yacht Club and a few drinks Nancy right of centre)

(One of the bar staff always smiling and friendly)

(Me chatting to one of the bar staff)

Today the day before we actually depart Panama we were alerted to low house battery alarm, this had happened a couple of times before that could have been easily explained as we were using a good amount of power, but not this time. I had suspected them on occasions of not performing the way they should but the tests although not flash were within limits. This time I tested them they failed miserably. So I said to Nancy we had better replace them we will not be able to get them where we are going. So that was number one job for the day go and find the batteries that we required. Allan our taxi man was ashore and we were able to get him again, second place we tried had them. Our taxi was overloaded with the weight of the batteries, every road crossing we bottomed out but we finally got back to the dock. The next task was to get them on board fit them and remove the others. Had no worries about getting rid of the old ones I had Allen, Junior and the guy’s at the fuel dock fighting over them.


(Driving into town to find batteries)


(The new batteries, this bloke wanted to give Alan and I a hand obviously wanting to earn some money)

(Junior, in white shirt with two of the old batteries, Alan took the other one they tested alright for whatever they wanted to use them for)

The Panama is not the best for manual labour activities, it’s hot and bloody humid. So once on board I strip down to the sea state dress of the day, yes the jocks. What’s that you say, not a pretty sight? Your probably right, well the sweat just poured out of me, I had two pieces of rag that I rung out a dozen times or more, then when all was finished Nancy had to get a mop to mop up the moisture on the floor. No wonder my love handles are disappearing. After this we fuelled and watered the boat ready for the departure early next morning.
On the dock here is a Customs officer so we went to see him about clearing out. Well he said we can’t do it here and we have to get approval of the Port Captain before Customs, both are at the Flamenco Marina Complex, we had already paid Alan a tidy sum of $150 US so he is probably home celebrating with his family, can’t blame him, he did a lot for us.
So we get a taxi to Flamenco, the Port Captain will not be there until 1600 hours, so we wait, he finally shows up and a nice man, he signed our papers and I asked how much we owed, he replied we Port Captains do not charge we are paid by the government. I did not tell him his colleague the other end of the canal charges $10 US and no receipt. Then we go to the Customs Office, no they cannot do it because we did not come here and get them signed when we arrived at this end of the canal, we now have to go into the city government offices to customs there. We arrive there at 1650 hours but they make us wait until 1705 hours, now we have to pay overtime rates because it is after 1700 hours. We also have to get signed out just before we leave in the morning, I said we are leaving at 0400 hours, they assure me they have 24 hour service at the dock. We thank them being polite, because it does not pay to get upset because we would pay somehow.
It is 0345 hours and we are ready to leave, I call a water taxi on the radio and he arrives when we get to the dock I ask him to wait there I will be back soon. We get to the customs office and it is in darkness, we knock loudly on the door and a light goes on, out comes a very sleepy customs officer and signs our document. The water taxi takes us back to the boat and we get back on board and start engines, slip the mooring and we are off. Galapagos here we come.

(The customs officer that we woke to sign the papers wished us well)