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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Panamanianism: Delays, Problems, and a Beautifully Terrifying change of plans.

The only reassurance about anything that you will find in Shelter Bay

Three weeks of blood, sweat and tears culminate today... and to be honest we don't think we're ready for it...

So where was I ...Panama, yes, Colon in Panama. Manyana land (Where Manyana means "probably never"- not "tomorrow"). ..I'd sailed across the Caribbean Sea with a crazy Swede to start life as a photographer/ videographer on board a catamaran. ...I'd sailed into Shelter Bay Marina and it's luxuries: a toilet, a shower, a pool. A land where everything seems perfectly normal on the outside, but what lies beneath, you'd probably never believe. 



The Swede agreed to spend a night in the marina to drop me off with my new crew, fill up his tanks and clean the boat. But Shelter Bay sucks you in, and most who come here never leave.


It took a few days for me to get my act together and change boats, but when the time came to carry my bags down the dock, everything had changed. 
The owner sat me down and told me that he had decided to delay his circumnavigation a year - the boat was not ready - he was not ready... the year he had spent preparing would be repeated. He might even get a bigger (and safer) boat... 
I stared at the captain feeling my whole world fall apart - it had been the first time I had made conscious life plans since 2007 and now it wasn't happening...

The offer remained for me to spend a couple of months sailing the boat through central America and back to Florida, but I knew that was the wrong direction - and I needed to think.


The Swede (Karl) and I took the marina shuttle into town and I sat staring out the window pondering my predicament - what was I going to do now?
Looking out at the beautiful jungle surrounding us made me miss land travel and the thought occurred to me that maybe I should take a break from sailing and explore North or South America...
And then I thought of all the offers I'd had to sail back across the Atlantic to Europe....
Or there was always the option finding a new boat for the Pacific...
Or there... I started laughing. So what my plans had changed, but I was sitting in one of the most beautiful places imaginable with a plethora of options - all of them good.




On the way home from a very unproductive visit to town, I sat on the back seat of the bus. The South African next to me told me how they were meant to be crossing the Panama canal that day but had just pulled the plug on it because her husband's health had just taken a massive dive. Another lady told me how they had had so many boat problems that they had to delay the trip 2 more years to afford it. Yet another told me how they had sailed all this way, but had decided that doing the canal was too big a step and they were turning around and going home...
I had a change of plans, yes, but so did everyone else!

Panama is make or break land. Once you cross the excessively expensive canal, there is no turning back. Only the adventurous sailors come here (I have never heard sailing tails half as crazy as the average yachtie in Shelter Bay has to tell) but few ever take the plunge and cross to the other side.

More and more life options presented themselves but I don't know how and I don't know why, but I made a choice. When the crazy swede decided he was heading out to the Pacific, I decided to stay on board Yoldia and her 27 feet of awesomeness. It feels right. And what better way to cross the little Pacific ocean?












I unpacked my bags and raised my flag. I was home.


And then the real work began. 

We began doing our 5 months of supply shopping



We found Mr Tito. an agent who helped us avoid the large costs of a cruising permit and a visa (in Panama everything is done under the table and between pockets), He helped us with the mounds of paper work necessary for the canal and got us a portable toilet because they don't let you cross the canal without one.

We got the whole marina involved with working on our engine - a 1 cylinder 6.5 horse power yanmar. People from everywhere heard tales of our problems and flocked to Yoldia to see if they could help... aeronautical engineers, mechanics, engineers, captains... EVERYONE... 



In fact, being the littlest boat in the marina has it's perks. We've had donations of food, a vhf, parts, lures. rescue equipment, meals, and most importantly - hugs...

We have met all sorts of people. Mostly good. All crazy.






Memorable quotes of the last few weeks include
"I'm a junkie, but I'm a good swimmer"
"and when I shipwrecked the third time"
"My fifth wife..."

Yes, it's an interesting place alright and we have seen and heard crazier things than I've ever seen anywhere else in the world. And this marina is small! 
The captain and I got to the point where we stopped being amazed by things and found it normal to be woken up by guests at 2am or to witness fires on boats, or to... I'm not sure sharing all the details are family friendly, so I leave it there...


We have worked flat out for the last three weeks repairing everything on board and nothing is 100% yet. But we are ready enough!

We did a practice run through the canal on Monday and while the transit was easy, the crazy trip cost us three days... and resullted in us rescheduling our crossing a third time





We even got to view the lunar eclipse on our crossing


With her engine almost working and almost everything ready, we finally took Yoldia out for a test run yesterday. To do the canal you have to be able to make 5 knots. We made 3.5. With the outboard combined we just made 4...

But then we dropped anchor and scraped the hull in the crocodile infested diesely water of colon and I think a hull clean was long overdue! 




With half the barnacles off (We gave up due to exhaustion, blood loss and the drinking of too much bad water) we'd done pretty well and increased our speed by about a knot - I think we might just be alright!

The last lock... we cant wait!

With just over an hour remaining, we are still awaiting our new crew (regardless of boat size you are required to have a minimum of 6 people on board through the canal - always fun on a 27 foot boat); we still need to do an oil change; and we need to tests the engine properly, and load up the new dinghy someone donated us this morning. We're stressed. We're tired. And we're sweating like gorillas, but we're doing it at last.

The fines for delays in the canal are up to 7000 US dollars and we dont have that; so if you have a moment today and tomorrow, say a little prayer for us/ hold thumbs/ cross your fingers/ post us a hug... we need all the help we can get!

You can watch the crossing live on webcam at http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html 
But with us being so small Im not sure you'll see much...

Anyway thats what life has thrown at me of late - lets hope its a little more relaxed on the other (Pacific) side!!!


See you there!

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