The Adventures of a Part Time Professional Gypsy (and her ginormous teddy thing)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Miracles Happen.

Once upon a time there was a little boat of epicness.
27 feet of pure awesomeness
Her name was Yoldia

Yoldia needed a lot of work. 
So for almost a month we did nothing but work on her.

Then one day we decided that she was ready for the Pacific.
We just had to get her through the Panama canal...

To cross the canal you need 7 things:
1) An engine that can make 5 knots
2) A crew of 5
3) A toilet
4) Shade
5) Bottled water for the pilot/ advisor
6) Hot meals and snacks for the advisor man
7) And something else...We forget
We had none of the above

We paid the exorbitant fees and booked our transit. We rescheduled 3 times and eventually had it all set for 16:00 on Saturday 19 April 2013

08:00 Being last minuters, we did a supply run on Saturday morning getting 5) bottled water and 6) food
12:27 Captain Karl resumed work on the engine and changed the oil for the first time ever
           I packed away supplies, secured for sea, checked us out, collected spare parts and 3) the toilet  tested the vhf and wrote a blog
14:28 Our first crew member (Cinthia, from Quebec) arrived.
15:00 We went to collect a dinghy that someoone donated us that morning and the bags of food someone else donated. 
           Karl resumed work on the engine because all of a sudden there was air seeping in to the fuel supply again
15:28 We tested to see if the dinghy fit, filled the tanks, and threw everything on board.
          Karl started closing up the engine
          I was about to run around and start recruiting more crew when all of a sudden Michael (American) and Jairo (Dutch) arrived from nowhere. 
15:37 We fired up the engine (The canal was going to be the test run) and finally left Shelter Bay Marina without having a chance to say goodbye.

We sped off at almost 5 knots to the flats where our advisor would board.
Half way there they started calling us on the VHF asking why we weren't there... but when our advisor (Moises) finally arrived, we fed him (and the crew) bananas and he was happy enough

I was stressed more than I have ever been before, but the captain held his composure and under the 6.5 horse power of the engine and the 4 horse power of our dinghys outboard, we made 5 knots. 
Miracles happen.

We tied up to a tug boat for the first 3 locks and made it through in record time!
(2 hours as opposed to the 6 hours our trial run on another boat had taken us)

We began to relax and enjoyed the journey, even seeing our first crocodile

We fed the crew niknaks and everyone was happy!

We arrived in the lake where yachts stay the night before resuming their transit and we bid Moises farewell before the captain cooked us up a delicious meal

I think it was probably too delicious because as soon as it was ready Moises returned and told us he wanted to help us out and after dinner we motored another 20 miles towards the downward locks.

It poured with rain.
The engine heating lights were on
But we made it through our biggest part of the journey without an engine failure. 
We were amazed.

After 3 hours of sleep, we all woke up feeling great

And then our new adviser, Frank, arrived

Frank didn't like my corn and banana pancakes

In fact I don't think he liked Yoldia or us. 3 miles before the last locks he told us that we had to turn around - we didn't match the canal standards and we could therefore not complete our transit.

He had the canal company on the line when I marched forward and gave him the most persuasive talk of my life. I told him how hard we had worked for this. I told him how competent a crew we were. I drove home the human elements and eventually had tears in my eyes...
We had come that far and there was no way in Halweta we were turning around!

Frank changed his mind.
He told his advisory that we had made a plan.
Frank started to take interest in us and even turned out to be a really nice guy.
\We like Frank.

We tied up to a mega-yacht for the next set of locks and all the crew were so jealous of our ride that they came on board to take pictures of themselves on Yoldia

Behind us we had a vessel of the most maximust canal size and we were just glad their breaks worked.

We passed the first lock.

We got the instruments out on the second lock

And when we cleared the last one we all began to breathe properly.
High fives
Maybe a few tears
I hoisted the South African flag


We bid frank farewell.

And the party began

As soon as we dropped anchor in La Playita, Panama people swarmed to the boat to welcome us. 
Old friends were everywhere.
New friends were abundant.


Thank you everyone at shelter bay for your help and donations.
Thank you everyone who prayed and fasted us through.
Thank you Micheal (first mate's first mate), Cinthia and Jairo for being an awesome crew
Thank you captain for pulling us through.
And finally Yoldia - thank you for holding yourself together, you might be small and get laughed at, but you're the best boat in the world!

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 
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!