Sunday, April 29, 2012

Huatulco to Panama

Sun 29th April, '12

 The cab came on schedule at 4am for my 5:25 flight to Charlotte.

 On the Charlotte-Houston leg I overheard a Mexican women say she was going to Huatulco and told her I was, too.  She had a screaming 3-year-old girl and a cute, talkative little boy, Esteban, maybe 5.  He borrowed my colored pencils and paper.  This was her first flight and even with two young children she handled it quite well.  Her english was weak and in Houston she got confused so I slowed down and, gay caballero that I am, escorted them to the gate.  
 Mi amigos were there waiting and had been for several hours after their early flight from LAX.
 Nice that our flight to Huatulco was nearly empty so we could sit together.
 Cab HUX-Marina Chahue 370 pesos.
 We fell upon one very dusty boat.

Mon 30th April, '12

 Motored into the harbor to scrape the hull, replace a screw in the bow thruster grill and install the Shaft-Shark (a wicked-sharp blade descended from dark age torture devices) a few inches forward of the prop that will slice up any nets or hard kelp we might cross (or Steve's hand should he grab it, which he did).
Mike chills out

 Nice cool, clear water - Oy! I’ve been looking forward to this.

 Later, a cab to Super Ché for food provisioning.

Tue 1st May, '12

 Electrician Martine determined that we should have the two alternators cleaned up so he and helper Enrique removed and took them away.

 Repaired dinghy davit foam, replaced bulbs, miscellaneous.  Repaired damaged spinnaker.

 To Super Ché again.

 Blood from a turnip: I finally badgered the boys into a little night life.  Cab to Crucecita, we had dinner at Onix, bought a couple of their shirts.  An eager cabby approached and I wanted his shirt, not a ride.  He swore he could get me one so we piled in.  Took us to a shop that did have cool shirts but he didn’t understand that I was interested in the cabby logo and Spanish script.  No shirt but the shop also specialized in mescal; they had lots, so after trying several samples and picking at the bowl of roasted grasshoppers Steve bought me some wicked good mescal
and a bag of locally grown coffee.  The entertaining shopkeeper, a talk show host slash used car salesman, plied us with tequila shots and crunchy grasshoppers.

Wed 2nd May, '12

 Added 2 jerry jugs diesel (42l, 440p).

 Steve took three or four cab rides for engine belts to no avail and finally sent Martine.

 Alternators and belts installed.

 Added another 2 jerry jugs of diesel, topped off water, repaired tears in the bimini and changed the oil.

 Planning to leave about 7pm to deal with the infamous Tehuano in the light of day.

 Cab to Crucecita - shoot pool, get fruit/veggies, Mike and I meal @ La Crucecita.

 Steve took a cab to complete paperwork before the 6pm deadline; Mike and I followed a half hour later.

 Turns out they misunderstood and thought we were only checking out of Marina Chahue, not the country, so the paperwork needs revising and we need to visit the harbor master again...tomorrow.

Thu 3rd May, '12

 Steve made one final jerry-run.  Later he and Mike did a little more provisioning and visited the slow-mo harbor master to complete paperwork.

  Early evening lovely Officer Natalie came to the boat for visual confirmation that there was a boat and crew as stated.

 1700 15.45 x 96.07 Leave Marina Chahue.

 The knotometer wasn’t working, probably clogged with sea grass, so we anchored in the bay and Steve dove down with a toothbrush to dislodge it.  In a half hour we’re on our way, out of the small bay and into open water in minutes.  It is hot, sticky and windless.  Mike steered for maybe an hour then we set Otto to 70 deg to keep within striking distance of land should dangerous weather suddenly arise.

 1830 I rigged the fishing gear and got several serious hits, enough to bend the big hook, but nothing to show for it.

 Great Leaping Mantas!  They’re popping up all around catching as much as 10’ of air.

 MIke fired up the on-deck grill and we had hot dogs.

 2100-2400 Mike’s shift.

Fri 4th May, '12

 We will follow the gulf’s concave curve ten to twenty miles out all the way round in order to cross the narrower part of the funnel and allow a quick retreat to land.

 2400-0330 Steve’s shift.

 0330 Steve got me up for my watch with news that the 24v system is not charging, perhaps because of a loose wire or belt on the recently fussed-with alternators.  We’ll inspect them when there’s light and cross our fingers we don’t have to go in for repairs.  Thankfully, the 12v system is charging.

 The moon is nearly full but spending a lot of time behind clouds leaving me with little visibility.

 0415 15.58 x 094.58 86F/73% Inexplicably, the 24v system lights are now on; confusing but a good thing, I spose.

 0500 Now completely overcast, no moon nor stars and dark as the inside of a cow; visibility nil.

 0600 16.01 x 094.46 86F/73% 1600rpm, 6.5k  Nothing to keep my eyes busy; struggling to keep them open.  The engine drone and swish of the sea is lulling me to sleep.  To stay alert I sometimes put on some tunes and dance a jig on the deck, but don’t want to risk waking the boys.  A pot of strong coffee with Bailey’s might help.

 0630 First rays of the new sun.  Steve said to wake him at daylight to check the alternators but the meter still has 3 of 4 lights lit so I’ll let him sleep.

 0700 16.02 x 094.41 86F/73% At last a waft of moving air in my face and sea turtles bobbing around.  This kind of excitement should hold my attention for a while.

 0715 I’m told now that three indicator lights don’t mean the system is charging.  We hove to to see if it is an obvious fix.  Not.  Fired up the gen-set to force-charge it but we can’t run the engine at the same time and there is no appreciable wind, so here we sit.  With no known substantial towns for help within 140 miles south, the boys decided to return to Huatulco (15 hours) to repair it, stopping as needed to run the gen-set.  I tried for some sleep.

 1230 15.56 x 095.05 93F/61% 30 miles back toward Huatulco the boys thought we’d wait till the cooler evening to give the wiring a second look.  I wondered if we oughtn’t do that sooner to possibly avoid more backtracking.  We hove to again to try another fix.

 1300 Eureka!  Mike found a disconnected ground wire and now it’s charging.  After a quick baño at sea, another about-face and we’re en route once again in the right direction.  The water was beautiful marine-blue, clear and refreshing.  Don’t know why the others don’t take these skinny-dipping opportunities.

 1500 15.58 x 094.54 95F/60% Hot and hazy.  Tossed out a fish line but the water is so warm it barely cooled me down and we think the fish are staying deep and cool.  Very rocky here in the middle of Golfo de Tehuantepec, but oddly the winds are blowing directly toward shore, the opposite of what we expected.  A few items were launched thither and yon but no breakage.

 Mike pointed out a mysterious, pure white, I mean albino, dorsal.  What was that?

 1830 Lots and lots of dolphins, and in fine form - a whole herd saw us from a distance and converged: “Yay, a boat to play with” - jumping higher and wilder than I’d seen before.

 2100-2300 Mike’s watch.

 2300-0320 Steve’s.

Sat 5th May, '12

 0320 My watch.  Without being wakened I was up before my call to duty and found Steve doing his 3 am pushups on deck.  This time, before even setting foot above, I brewed a serious pot o’ joe.  Lightning in the distance.

 0400 15.27 x 093.30 88F/69% We’re trying to stay 6-7 miles off shore so we can high-tail it in if necessary, but I see two big stationary blips on the radar 8 miles out and dead ahead - about a dozen miles off shore (15deg 20’.554 x 093deg 25’.609).  Oil derricks, islands?  This far out with our depth under 150’ I adjusted course from 130 deg to 170 to steer well clear of any outcroppings.

 0515 15.18 x 093.27 88F/71% Have been slowly tweaking back towards land, but several more ominous yellow blobs appeared on the monitor even though we’re now a full 17 miles out.  I’m wondering whether I should have threaded the needle and gone between them and the shore...

 0630 Good, the sun is rising and I’ll be able to lay my eyes on what the monitor sees.  I’m spotting a few early morning dolphins lazily congratulating us for having crossed the Golfo de Tehuantepec. 

 0900 15.02 x 093.04 87F/71% Overcast, 1700rpm, 6.5k smooth, gently rolling seas.  Maybe 60 miles to Guatemala.

 Midday the jib went out to assist the iron spinny, first time since yesterday and only briefly because...the mysterious radar images proved to be areas of rain and we now see a huge one six miles ahead and the dark clouds and unmistakable gray pattern the rain paints on the sea.

  Jib back in and none too soon.  After two days in the high 90s the abrupt temperature drop, maybe fifteen degrees, was refreshing but a clear sign of a quick weather change.

 We knew we were in for a ride; Tehuantepec would not let us leave unscathed.  Paul’s foulie jacket came into good use blocking the chilly mix of splashing sea and driving rain.  Winds tripled to 25-30k, gusting over 40.

 1400 We just came out of the storm.  It lasted about 2 hours.  The heavy, driving  rain has subsided somewhat and the wild, choppy swells have become smallish regimented waves, tops lopped off by the wind and sides smoothed by the rain.  Taking a broader view it’s a gray-blue desert-like landscape.

 1500 The rain is done but the waves have become much choppier and erratic, often catching us off guard.  Steve says most boat injuries are from a surprise loss of footing and getting banged about the salon.  One rogue wave combination launched Mike’s not insignificant frame plum off his cabin seat, nearly to his feet.

 We saw a curious black flag on a flat buoy.  Wondered if it was a distress signal but there were no people or boat pieces around it.  And there are several pangas out here maybe 12-14 miles in these wild eight-foot waves.  We veered off our course to come close enough to assist if necessary - close enough that they could have signaled us if there was a problem.  Guess they’re fishing...just insane.

 We later learned that the black flag marked one end of a long fishing line, as long as five miles, and a second attached flat buoy indicates the direction of the line.

 Now aimed at Mexico’s southernmost pacific point, Puerto Madero.

 1700 14.31 x 092.19 89F/64%

 1800 14.24 x 092.11 89F/63% Now the sea is deceptively silky smooth - every so often the right combination of swells merge to launch the bow way up and it crashes a good ten feet down into a trough.  With little warning it’s easy to lose your footing.  During a brief nap the vertical turbulence was like that in a plane when your insides sort of float.  Once it nearly lifted my prone body right off the bunk.  When the boat rocks front to back it’s really no problem once you get used to it.  Rolling side to side, however, gives this feeling that you might roll right out of the bunk.  A lee cloth is a sort of papoose designed to prevent that, but I haven’t used it yet; I usually angle myself across the berth so I’m once again rocking head to toe.  But that requires a certain “V” insert and a bit of fussing about.  However I have developed, but not yet patented, a sleeping position in which I separate my feet and arms to get less log-like and so harder to roll.  Freeze a runner in mid-stride, tip him over on his side is what it looks like.  But today sleeping posture isn’t as much a problem as the smacks of water on the outer hull, inches from where my head rests.  They sound like hammer strikes.  Why fight it; I'm up. 
 These long passages are rough on your sleep cycle; we’re all tired a lot of the time.  Cappy promised after tonight one more night and then a break.
 This water is ugly; gray-green and even brownish when it splashes - so different from what I swam in yesterday. 
 Little wonder pirates had beards.  In these waves, without a safety razor, you’d slit’cher bloody throat. 
 Now, the guys are conked out charging their batteries for tonight’s watches while I’m up top gliding across the imaginary line in the water to Guatemala - ¡Adios Mexico!

 2100-2400 Mike’s watch.

 2400-0230 Steve’s watch

Sun 6th May, '12 (clocks back an hour)

 0230 John’s watch

 0300 13.47 x 091.05 86F/72% full moon, gently rolling sea.

It didn’t take long for the moon to disappear into blankets of clouds.  Cool feeling in the air, lightning in the distance; we could be seeing some weather.

 0430 Smooth sea, 1700 rpm with a favorable current we’re doing an admirable 7.5k SOG.  No rain on the radar within twelve miles, but that familiar cool breeze has picked up and distant lightning flashes have increased.

 0600 13.40 x 090.41 86F/70% 14nm off shore.

 0630 Thoroughly overcast but there’s a glow in the sky and on the water so I know the sun’s behind there somewhere.  Some small storms appeared on the radar but I have successfully willed away the rains and lightning and we’re slip slidin’ south.

 0700 Calm, quiet, pluggin’ along.  Talk about lo-o-o-ng, rolling swells - these are forty yards apart and no more than a few feet high; perfect rock-a-bye sleeping conditions for the lucky bastards in their bunks.

 0800 13.37 x 090.29 86F/70% The little engine that could hasn’t had but two brief rests since Huatulco - 65 hours, 420 miles - and she’s purring like a kitten.

~Sea turtles with bird riders.

~feeding frenzy - li’l yellow bird

1700 Desperate to sail at least a little, we tried the jib, then main, lost the wind and at <4k boat speed, motored a rhumb line to Bahia del Sol.

2130 13.17 x 88.54 Trip nm 500+ engine hours 2320 Anchored a mile off Bahia del Sol, El Salvador.

 Knock on wood, there have been no skeeters, gnats, no-see-‘ems, no bugs so far - I mean since San Francisco!  I know that can’t last.

Mon 7th May, '12

 0800 87F/74%

 Awoke to quiet seas, but monster waves are breaking on shore.  Entering Bahia del Sol, with its shallow entryway and huge breakers, requires a guide, and can only be done at high tide.  The next high tide is 1400-1500 this afternoon at which time a jet ski will come out to escort us in.  So we have a half dozen hours to kill and I’m recommending some poker.

 1445 Bill, of “Mita Kuuluu”, our Bahia del Sol connection, radioed instructions for us to rendezvous with our escort at 13.16.7 x 88.53.3, a point just before the first breaking wave of the entryway.  This seemed insane, that he was going to guide us into a series of ten to twelve foot crashing waves, but that’s exactly what was about to happen.  I’ll describe it as best I can, but it won’t come close to the actual experience.  We had visual contact with the jet ski and VHF contact with Bill sitting behind the jet-ski pilot.  After one abortive attempt he got us properly aligned, perpendicular to the waves.  On the “go” command Steve thrust the throttle forward and Liberation II was off.  In a moment the first giant was frothing at our heels and the stern rose several feet.  Looking back at Steve, I saw him almost entirely framed by boiling white bubbles.  We were off!  In just a few seconds The Lib accelerated to over 14k, faster than she can physically sail and faster than the dear thing had ever moved.  The first ride was a long one, maybe 300 yards.   Steady Steve maintained a right angle to the breakers.  A moment of deceleration and another wave took over.  What a rush.  After a few of these, all fear had gone and I began regretting the ride was nearly over.  All the while Bill was snapping shots of us surfing our 13-ish ton board.  Who on earth decided to put a marina here?  And how on earth do we get out?  This may have been the single coolest time to have taken a video but with all the unknowns I might be called upon to do, I daresn’t document.
These were taken by Bill while riding on back of our jet-ski chaperone:

 Safely past the breakers, now dodging logs and branches being sucked out by the swift tide, we motored a smooth half mile to the marina and were directed into a slip, greeted by smiling, congratulatory faces who had witnessed Steve’s expert entry.  Oh, and three rum punches proffered on a silver tray.   That’s my kind of welcoming.  It set the tone for our three-day layover: amiable, relaxed and friendly.  But, business before pleasure, we were escorted to the immigration and registration office, which went smoothly.  While Steve dealt with that, I investigated the particulars.  This marina offers three options: anchor out, moor or slip.  I signed us up for the slip because for an additional $14 we joined some club that allows us 30% off all purchases, tasty five dollar burger meals, dollar beers and, importantly, half off slip fees (50 cents/ft.).  One days’ slip fee discount more than covers the club cost and we don’t need the dinghy every time we want to reach land.

 All told, these are the best amenities yet.  Vallarta had many but was expensive and commercial and stuffy; Huatulco had next to none and wasn’t that much cheaper.  Here at Bahia del Sol we have a fuel dock, boat water, pool, showers, included WiFi and it’s charming, laid back and the dining is not expensive.  We also have the option of a decent sixty dollar room with private outdoor Jacuzzi if, say, I wanted to rid myself of the gruesome twosome for a night.

 Business done, we headed for the pool.  

There are plenty of like-minded cruisers here, several of whom are acquaintances.  Sitting in and around the pool from four to six in the afternoon is the time to trade stories and exchange expertise.  Burgers, beers and back to the boat.
 I enjoyed a night cap and cigarette sitting at the end of the dock and struck up a conversation with a dock worker, Alberto, who, if you can believe it, knows less English than I do Spanish.  We were able to squeeze out a basic dialogue for a half hour (“Mi casa es el barco”, pointing to The Lib), then bid buenos noches and I headed for my thankfully not rocking berth.
Tue 8th May, '12
 0530 Up brewing coffee, checking email.
 The tides roar in and out of this estuary at a surprising clip but thankfully have little effect on the boat.  At times it’s nearly as stable as being on land.
 0700 Time for a dip in the pool and coffee via Leo, the friendly, helpful and omnipresent staffer.  Steve’s off running.

 With less than a half tank of diesel, we waited for the 4pm high tide and motored the hundred yards over to the fuel dock.  It took quite a while to pump the 100.3 gallons ($5.09/gal) but she’s nearly topped off now. 
 1700 down to the pool for the afternoon gathering.  After a dip someone said let’s go down the road to the Mar y Sol for pupusas.  Fifteen of us descended upon the little roadside restaurant for this traditional Salvadoran dish.  At 75 cents a pop, we three spent all of $6 on food and about the same on drinks.  Dinner was a bit heavy; the half mile walk back to the boat helped.
Wed 9th May, '12
 Up before six.  After coffee, a dip in the pool and desayuno at the marina restaurant.  Added 2 jerrys to completely top off fuel.  Dammit, I told him I could've squoze another 10 gallons from the pump.
 What a cool tree, the Almendra - nature’s sunbrella.

 1600-1800 Poolside klatsch.  A dinner buffet was being set up dockside and we all agreed $10.50 was a good deal.  Afterwards we took a tour of Lee’s boat, Solent, and they of ours.  Serena, her sister Kate and Lewis are crew.

Thu 10th May,'12
 0500 We three up prepping for departure.
 0610 13.17 x 088.53 84F/75% As we exit, those monstrous waves we surfed in on are now mere swells and we tooled right through them to open waters.  No fun at all.

Damn, the knotometer is stuck again.
 0730 Cool 14k headwind, overcast.  1650 rpm blasting through big-ass choppy swells.
 0800 Jib out, 7-7.5k boat speed.
 0815 85F/79%  Knot meter and trip meter shook free.

Fri 11th May,'12
 0330 My watch.  Steve’s a good guy - he always comes on early and stays late buying Mike and I at least an extra half hour’s sleep each night.  I start with a manly pot o’ joe and Bailey’s, which I wisely stocked from Super Che.  Strong breeze at our nose; cool and refreshing but a helluva a choppy ride - too choppy even to type on the keyboard.  It’s an isometric workout just trying to stay put and my hair is just a dreadful mess; I fear I must look a fright.  Good thing I don’t give a shit.  True boat speed 14+ but SOG only 6.5; 15k headwind and unfavorable current to blame.
 Here, deep in the tropics, he who never falls ill caught, of all things, a cold.  I went to bed wet and left a fan blowing right on my chest is what done it I think.
 0415 Strange that there’s a glow of light behind the clouds and on the ocean - way early for sunrise  Did we cross another time zone?
 0500 11.57 x 086.51 85F/70% A little less choppy.  Clearly the sun is rising, but it’s barely 5am?  Trip: 138nm (+2 hours travel); 21+1 hr?
 We scooted right by the small piece of Honduras that touches the Pacific and, despite my protests, are now passing Nicaragua from some 10 miles out.
 0800 Main up (reef3) and jib out; motor off.  6.7k boat, 170deg course.
 During the course of the day the winds off our port beam rose to a consistent range of 15-20; once up to 28.  Rocking hard all day combined with a 30º heel made it difficult to move about.  The gimbaled stove top at an impossible angle looked like something out of Mystery Village where balls roll uphill.

 1500 11.02 x 086.35 92F/54%  We’re making great headway.  For the last four hours boat speed rarely dipped below 7 and, for a moment, reached 8.  It is hot and sticky and, as the boat is continually bathed by crashing waves, all the hatches and portals are sealed up tight.  It’s a bloody steam bath below.  Still, having started my day at three, I thought I’d try for a little sleep.  After an hour of writhing in sweat I gave up.
 1645 The wind suddenly slackened by half.  We took this opportunity to lower the main and free the halyard that had earlier caught on a spreader.  Re-raised the main to little avail but hope to have usable wind later.  Swung open every portal, hatch and hole in the boat that might provide fresh air.
 1730 10.54 x 86.59 92F/58% Much calmer, still windless.  Motor sailing within striking distance of Islas Murcielagos after which we hope to pick up some internet signals from Costa Rica.
 I’m not likening myself to a prisoner, but what we have in common is limited resources and time on our hands.  MacGyver-style, I have collected and sewn together sea sponges to painstakingly craft a seat to cushion against the hard back of the cabin bench.

Sat 12th May,'12
 0330 My watch.  Cool breeze throughout the salon and berths; slept pretty well.
 Clear sky, bright moon and stars.  Motor sailing @6.5-7.0 on a smooth sea.  The boat is fairly caked with salt.  Run your hand cross a lifeline and you get enough for a margarita.
 0500 10.03 x 085.52 84F/74% Six miles off Costa Rican coast.  290+nm; 43.9+hrs.  Lightning in the distance but no rain on radar.
 0530 Wind velocity nil; hiked in the main and jib.
 0600 09.57 x 085.51 86F/72% Beautiful sun glowing on the horizon.
 0630 Rounding Punta Guiones, adjusted course to 125, into the wind.  Rolled up the jib and hiked the traveler to port.  1450 rpm; 6k boat speed.
 0700 09.52 x 085.47 85F/75%
 1600 09.27 x 084.58 92F/64% Cut hard 90º to port to take a break in Bahia Ballena.
 We overnighted here in Golfo de Nicoya, Costa Rica.  I'm immediately over the side and, ahhh, finally surrounded by cool, refreshing water.
 It's Saturday night and we spot lights around the dock - weehoo, let's dinghy in and party!
 Nope - all there was was a bunch of locals fishing from the dock and a pitch-dark road we followed for a few hundred yards before giving up and turning back.
Sun 13th May,'12
  Last night's huge rainstorm washed away all the encrusted salt the boat had accumulated from days at sea.  This morning, after another swim, we dinghied to shore to wander the sleepy town of Tambor.  It's the off (rainy) season and Sunday to boot so not a beehive of activity, but quietly pleasant.  We came across the charming Hotel Costa Coral for desayuno...umm, banana bread and locally-grown coffee.

 I was here in Costa Rica in '93 and it is every bit as lush and lovely as I remember.  I wouldn't mind a three- or four-day layover to check out the volcanoes and rain forest.   We'll explore more of the bay by dinghy before the slave driver puts us to sea again towards Panama. 

  Afternoon depart Bahia Ballena/Tambor.
 In the black of night we are in a wicked storm, rocked fore and aft, port and starboard with nasty, indecisive currents to boot.  This came about while I was “resting” in my berth.  As the bow rises high then falls back there is often not a lot, but always some cushion afforded by the choppy waters.  But two or three times it came to such an abrupt landing that it shook my bones and I couldn’t help but think what it did to Lib’s.
 It seems a strain on the engine and at times we are making almost no headway at all although maintaining 1600 rpm.  The swells we’d been cutting through became a nearly impenetrable wall.
 The transmission may have been damaged, making unusual sounds when accelerating or decelerating.  Headed straight in towards Quepos. 
 0300 Quepos.  We couldn’t determine the distance to the mangrove-lined shore, but it sure seemed close...and the depths didn’t make sense.  We slowly followed the coast and finally anchored down in weird waters among a number of S/Vs and M/Vs which all seemed to be moored.

Mon 14th May,'12
 09.25 x 084.10
 We dinghied in to Quepos pier and were permitted a few hours to search for transmission fluid without “checking in”, but could not leave our dinghy.    So, we couldn’t leave the dinghy and hired panganeer Jorge to follow us back to the boat and return us to shore.  A ridiculously short taxi ride into town and we quickly found just what we needed.  With time to spare we decided to wander.  We split up, staying in touch with handheld VHF radios, ultimately rendezvous-ing at El Gran Escape for BLTAs and beers.  We walked back to the pier, climbed into Jorge’s panga and went back to the boat.  Six bucks.
 Fluid in and after a short breather we were off.
 1430 09.25 x 084.10 Anchored in Bahia de Manuel Antonio.  Iffy about the health of our transmission and no decent-sized towns within striking distance this late in the day, we decided to overnight.  This is a national park reputed to have more wildlife and more diversity of wildlife than anywhere in Costa Rica besides zoos.
 With the better part of the day remaining, despite substantial waves breaking on shore, we reckoned we’d dinghy in and check out the few palapas we could see from the boat.  I was fully prepared to be capsized and secured everything in a wet bag.  So choppy, just getting into the dinghy was a challenge; Mike got slammed in the backside and Steve was nearly thrown out while we were still tied to the swim deck.  Dumb luck but it seemed like a miracle: the huge waves subsided just in time and for just long enough for us to dryly slide onto shore.
 In sprinkling rain we sat trying new beers and chicken teriyaki.  Steve struck up with a Santa Fe ex-pat.
 Okay, sun’s falling fast, time to head back.
waves bigger than they look
 If anything, the waves had grown.  We made several abortive attempts to push the dinghy past the breakers, the idea being that we’d swim out after it.  We didn’t even come close and lost some clothes in the effort.  Now it’s twilight - do or die time.  Hard enough to gauge the waves now, it would be impossible in the dark.  Here goes nothing.  We passed, we think, all but one breaker and Mike pops in.  Still pushing, Steve and I were about to join him when the Mother hit.  Mike was a rag doll, launched in the air with the dinghy.  It landed on me but Steve was able to jump clear.  The wave’s force held me to the bottom in swirling sand.  I came up long enough for a breath and bam - got clobbered again and in a shot was sent heels-over-head rushing toward shore.  One more for good measure then I finally found my feet.  Scanning the twilight I saw both boys, quite far apart, and shouted “Where is it?”.  The dinghy was well up on shore and upright.  The wet bag was intact and even the unsecured oars remained and phew! no one was injured.  But Mike and I were surely sugar-cookied (wet & dipped in sand).  Well, ain’t this a revoltin’ development!?
 Despite the posted “Dangerous Rip Currents”, IronMan planned to swim to the boat in pitch dark, actually for all of us to, I think, and deal with fetching the dinghy in the morning.  Well, the wet bag held my passport, money, credit cards and camera.  You could hardly swim with it and I wasn’t about to abandon it overnight.  I was roundly chided for bringing all that stuff to shore.  The lockers we’d seen at the palapa were unsecured and the staff said we’d be crazy to attempt that swim anyway.  As the only one who seemed interested in other options, i asked about renting a room and they mentioned a couple hotels.  I opted for the closest, whether alone or with my compadres and after some resistance that’s where we went.  I asked for explicit directions but they just pointed and waved left and right.  Turns out the path to the hotels began just a few trees behind us.  Dripping like drowned rats at the reception desk of the Hotel de Verde Mar we checked in.  Gee, ain’t it a good thing someone had a passport and credit card?
 No laundry to dry our clothes, no TV to escape our trauma, I took a dip in the pool, borrowed a book from the desk, showered and turned in.
 An odd thing about the room - there were no drawers.  No drawers beside the bed for Gideon’s Bible; no drawers, nor cabinets for that matter, in the bathroom for a toothbrush or extra paper rolls; no drawers, even, in the kitchen for plates or flatware.  If you didn’t see something, it wasn’t there - no need to look for it because there were no drawers.
~ Mosaics

Tue 15th May,'12
 Up around six, we walked down to assess the waves in the daylight - still looking rather ominous.  Steve took a run and I went hunting coffee.
the battered dinghy
 After Anita at a nearby hotel presented us with a gentle desayuno and good coffee ("Cawhee?  You wan' schuga, no schuga?”), we summoned our courage to give it another go.  Two or three attempts at pushing through those waves just ended up in swallowed salt water, a grand soaking and the dinghy back to square one on the beach.  I insisted we hire a jet ski or panga to drag the damn thing out.  Walking up the beach with those intentions a Colin Ferrell-looking dude approached me and in very strained English asked if I was "he-who-had-crashed", as, apparently, our story had by now spread far and wide.
 He gestured to a catamaran in the bay, said it was his friend's and could help.  Presently a panga appeared from behind the cat and sped towards the Lib.  The driver grabbed one of our long lines from her lazarette and came towards us.  Deftly through the crashing waves, in no time he was there and quickly executed his plan: drag the dinghy past the last breaker while we three swam.  That we did, clambered in and were towed to the Lib, a bit dazed and confused but safe and sound.
 All that wave power, all day and all of the night, makes me wonder if there could be a hydrofarm of something like tow generators to collect it.
 0900 depart Bahia Manuel Antonio 88F/65% Sunny, glassy.  6.5 motoring; hugging the coast.
 1830 08.41 x 083.40 Anchor down in Bahia Drake (for Sir Francis Drake).

Wed 16th May,'12
 Up at little before six.  Very calm water, cool breeze, slept pretty well.
 Holy Smoke - by seven it's already stifling!  No breeze and a blazing sun.  On deck just the menial chores of flaking lines and siphoning gas have got me in a light-headed heat stroke condition.  PLEASE let it rain.
 Siphoned 10 gallons of diesel from the jerry-jugs.
 We motor-dinghied into the Drake lagoon to the Aguila Eco-resort, nestled into the rain forest mountainside.  The super-lush flora left no doubt that, no, we weren’t in Kansas anymore.
120 steps up

I've been very lucky at finding pools

 We dinghied back to the Lib at anchor in Bahia Drake for the jerry-jugs.  It's always good to have extra diesel and a nearby town is said to have some.  Fortified with rum punch, we decide to make the supposedly short hike.  "It's just 7 minutes down that path", we were told.  Well, it was more like 37 minutes but I wouldn't have minded if it were a lot longer.  The primitive trail wound round lush trees, exotic plants, across stepping stones, over planks, tires, a wobbly rope and board bridge, down to the beach and back up to the edge of the rain forest.  A friendly dog accompanied us nearly all the way and when I would fall behind taking pictures he'd look back and wait with concern.
Our Via Dieselorosa

 Hah! - Mike makes them look heavy but them jugs is empty.
 Steve dropped a record $7/gallon this time.  We bought their last 8 gallons, transferred to our jugs via the "CPR" method of which I was, and now Steve and Mike are, expert.
 Having become friendly with the store owner, he gave us a pickup truck ride down to the beach where I stood guard over the booty while the boys dinghied over to pick me, and it, up.

<Siphoned 8.5 gallons from the jerry-jugs.>

 1500 depart Bahia Drake

Thu 17th May, '12
 0230 My watch. The lazy little sliver of a moon coming up off the bow hasn’t got long to shine before being erased by another early sunrise.
 0500 08.07 x 082.31 86F/77% Tweaked from an 80deg course to 70 to thread between the mainland and Isla Parida.  Headed nearly due East, straight into the sun.

 0520 No - it looks too shallow.  Switched to 120deg so to round Parida and then cut in to Boca Chica.
 1000 08.12 x 082.12 Anchor down in Boca Chica, Panama.
 Evidently the beating our poor dinghy took at Manuel Antonio had separated a section of rubber from the aluminum hull as we now had a sizable leak detected as Steve and I began to row to shore.  Up to our ankles in no time, but somehow we got to SeaGull Cove’s small dock.
 Welcomed by 125 eight inch steep steps up to the lovely resort we met the South African managers Derrick and Avril.  Quick to please and probably bored, as they had no guests, we spent an hour or two chatting over drinks.  In heavy rain some hurried bailing ensued and we headed back to the boat muy pronto.

added 24 gal diesel by jerrys via panga to Carlos’.

Fri 18th May, '12

 Mike rowed Steve in so he could trip to David (DaVEED) for hard provisions and to buy some internet access.  Shortly afterward Steve intercepted my hailing on VHF and suggested we row over to Gone Fishin’, an adjacent resort, for breakfast and drinks, which we did.

 Steve scored a ride to David with the owner, Bruce, while Mike and I picked the sailing brains of the one or two guys who appeared at the open air bar.  Very little for the staff to do, I made friends with them, got a couple towels and permission to hit the pool.  Oh, that felt good.  Cool, unsalty water.  I hit it three or four times, every time I got the least bit hot.

 Steve returned in the early afternoon, perhaps a little chagrined that we hadn’t arranged to get diesel or water.  We had a great big fresh tuna lunch.  Bruce kindly offered potable water from his dock if we could get the Lib over there quickly, as high tide was waning.

 Added 34 gal diesel by jerrys via panga to Carlos’.

 Boca Chica panga 6214-6883

Sat 19th May, '12
 0700 08.12 x 082.12 79F/80% Mooring off; leave Boca Chica.
View from "Gone Fishin'" (Rocks submerged at high tide)
Ignorance is bliss they say and coming into Boca Chica at high tide we were certainly ignorant of the many barely submerged rocks we had luckily dodged.  Going out we were able to see them poking up their sharp, ugly heads as we carefully zigzagged to avoid them.
 1200 07.53 x 081.49 87F/73% 14 mile off shore.  Storm brewing dead ahead; cut towards land in case we need shelter.
 A pissy little storm kept things cool. 15-17 wind; 7+ boat

Sun 20th May, '12
 1200 Steve’s watch
  0030 The mainsail had been single-reefed since early yesterday.  It ripped once, low, just over the reefing then, in minutes, again above that.  It’s in tatters.  All hands on deck, but too rocky and dark to safely bring it down.

 Motoring slowly to Ensenada Benao to assess damage and catch our breath.
 0200 my shift.  It tears at me when with every new gust I hear that low, sharp rrrrip of more lost canvas, but there’s nothing to be done.
 0230 07.08 x 080.28 83F/80%
Mainsail in tatters
 0800 07.25 x 080.11 83F/78% Anchor down in Ensenada Benao.  Flaked the tattered main and we are beat, physically from lack of sleep and mentally from this most recent travail.  Now trying for some rest.
 We took this opportunity to pull the dinghy out and try again at mending the wound - now a three-foot length of separation between rubber and aluminum.  Laid upside down on the aft deck, this time we applied lock-tite liquid metal under and over the area and this time left it to set for the recommended curing time.   
 1300 We depart Benao under thoroughly overcast skies, pissing rain and rock ‘n roll seas.

Mon 21st May, '12
 1200 My watch, the sandwatch, the crappy one, usually Steve’s, sandwiched between the after-dinner and sunrise watches.  Having rounded Punta Mala we are well into Bahia de Panama.
 0300 08.28 x 079.27 84F/77% Now thirty miles from Panama City, I can see its glow.  Lumbering on lazy waters our battle-scarred vessel, beat but not broken, tired but victorious, is in striking distance of one of our most important landmarks, the Panama Canal.  Ah, Panama, where the streets are lined with free internet cafes, on every corner a chandlery and expert sailmakers, mechanics and electricians at your beck and Steve would have me believe.  His mantra: “We’ll get it done in Panama”.
 0400 All’s well and on a better course to the canal.  I hadn’t woken Cappy at 0300 as planned since I was still alert and thought he could use the extra zees.  Still, a little past 0415 he unsurprisingly appeared in the companionway.
 Now we see the scattering of ships and boats entering and leaving the canal.

approaching Panama City

approaching Panama City

Panama City
 0800 08.55 x 079.31 86F/75% Anchored in Las Brisas de Amador ("Lover's Breezes").
 Dinghy lowered over the side, fingers crossed.  We motor-dinghied in to Isla Perico ("Parakeet Island") to get our bearings and find where and how to begin the check-in processes.  Whopping desayuno at the Amador Hotel’s restaurant.  Although the only patrons, our order had to be repeated throughout the meal: The yogurt, juice and coffee came at once, the eggs much later, the ham (enough for six) after a reminder and having finished everything else, then, after another reminder, came the bacon, also enough for six.  Boy was the coffee good - I had a lot, even for me.
 The American dollar is the currency used in Panama so we no longer have the mental exercise of calculating exchange rates.
 Lovely lanky Eleena, a sort of hotel concierge at the Amador, gave us directions to where we'd register for the canal transit.
 After a short cab ride crossing the Amador Causeway (constructed of rocks removed while digging the Canal) and into a business/industrial area, despite having the exact address on paper, the cabby roamed us around for fifteen minutes before finding the transit office.  It was just across from the Canal Port, buzzing with container truck traffic, eight out of ten bearing the omnipresent Maersk SeaLand inscription, and scores of local graffitied buses.
 That accomplished, we found a bank to beef up cash reserves as the transit fees of $1600 are only payable in cash.

 Back on Isla Perico relaxing at BarKo, a quiet watering hole, we discovered we had none of the ship’s papers.  The “oh, shit” moment.  They had to be at the Transit Office, the bank or in the cab.  Flagged the first cab we saw and rushed back to the bank.  Phew, they were there.  Panic subsidified, Hector, our gregarious and informative cabbie, said, “Hey, you wanna go up the hill?”
Yeah, why not and we ventured the 654 steep feet up winding one-way road to Cerro Ancon where the American military, up until the 1977-1999 handover, had supervised canal operations.  Now it is in part home to retired officials in old colonial/plantation style houses and, away from residential areas, lushly overgrown.  The top afforded a spectacular view of the city, the massive port area and the first section of the canal.

 Saw some small monkeys, "titis", clambering in branches overhead.
 Back to Isla Perico we did some souvenir shopping, found a tire (tell ya what for later) and lugged it all back to the Lib on a panga.
 In answer to your burning questions of "Whaddya need ta get thru the canal?"...
 The passage takes a long day (or two, as it turned out for us).  Hiring an “agent” is recommended to guide you through the bureaucratic maze.  His fees may include the lines and handlers and something minimal for his service.
 Let’s say you go without the agent.  You need to process through immigration and customs, you need to register for transit ($0), the boat must be measured, 4-5 line handlers are required (we three count as handlers, others will be hired at maybe $40 each), four 125 foot lines between 7/8 inch and 1.5 inches (rent at $40), fenders, protective auto tires , a trip advisor whose pay is included in the $1600 transit fee, food and drink for the advisor and line handlers (we're thinking 2 bucks for their bread and water while we have Cristal and fois gras) and a cruising permit ($100-200) in order to stay in Panama over 72 hours; of course it’s impossible to process and pass in less than 72 hours.  Also required is that the boat have proper bathroom facilities, a warning horn and sun/rain protection for the cockpit.
 Oh, and entering any government building to accomplish the bureaucratic transactions requires wearing a collared shirt, long pants and shoes - not flip-flops.  No, really!

Tue 22nd May, '12
 0530 Must’ve conked out early last night ‘cause I’m up with the sun feeling fairly refreshed.
 0800 Called in to confirm our scheduled visit by the Panama Canal Boarding Inspector which, as we understand, entails merely a measurement to determine our transit fees.  Putting the dinghy on the painter we swung in the davits to reduce our overall length as over fifty feet is charged more and we are close to that length.  While waiting for them we caught up on flaking lines and general ship-shaping.
 1230 Hot, sticky and frustrated at not accomplishing any of our long list of tasks, the Inspector, or "admeasurer", was due between 9 and 12.  Now it’s 2:30, fer cripesake.  At 4:00, still with no contact from the inspector, Steve called them again and was told they had looked, but couldn’t find us.  Yeah, right.  Why they didn’t call or radio us seems ridiculous.  We dinghied in to eat and use the free internet for this graphic-intensive blog.

Wed 23rd May, '12
the "admeasurer"
 0600 Up and anxious to finally accomplish something.  Again scheduled for between nine and noon.  At last, at 1330, the inspector came.  After waiting six+ hours yesterday and four+ today, it took all of fifteen minutes for the measurement and filling out the forms.
 Steve, always eager for political and sociological conversations, engaged our inspector.  He is of the opinion there are three distinct groups here: gays (who, he says, are infesting the city), those married or spoken for but sorely tempted by the third group - hungry women who far outnumber available men.
ceviche and margaritas
 Motored back around the islands to our original anchorage and hurriedly dinghied to shore in order to continue running bureaucratic errands; Steve to the Port Captain’s Office to buy our cruising permit ($195 + $40 for random fees), Mike and I downtown to pay the $1500 transit fees before the bank closed.  We made it in time and decided to wander, starting at the Plaza Catedral in the San Felipe (historic) district.  Under major restoration, it was especially interesting.  The Canal Museum, little hidden beer bar, Diablico’s for ceviche and margaritas.
 The cab ride back might have been regarded as torturous, but for me it was fascinating.  We wound through all kinds of interesting quarters of the city; rich, poor, busy, desolate, commercial and residential.
  Back on Isla Perico, Mike caught a lift in a neighbor’s dinghy and I sat with the infamous Mick over martini’s at BarKo waiting for someone from Lib to come get me.  When their sullen faces finally appeared, I got the news that we would not be in the “entrada queue” for ELEVEN MORE DAYS!

Thu 24th May, '12
 0700 No hurry getting up after last night’s bad news of the long waiting period.  Mid morning we dinghied to the island and while looking for a restaurant fell on a pool in an uninhabited corner of the Amador Hotel, evidently closed during this, the slow season.  We jumped in before we could be told not to.  Steve says it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.
 We walked across the short causeway to Mi Ranchito and, after a leisurely breakfast, around the corner to Abernathy’s Chandlery.

Fri 25th May, '12
 0700 Up and about.  T minus ten days.  We motored over to the marina at La Playita at 1130
 <83.6 gal, 1/2 tank water + $20 docking fee = $375.  2455 engine hours>

Sat 26th May, '12

 Jewelry from Peruvian artisan Mitsasui
(tortuga, on left) acai seed, boa vertebra, ladrillita stone

Sun 27th May, '12
 On a (bad) tip from Melissa, an Isla Perico shopkeeper, we ventured over to Vera Cruz, across the Bridge of the Americas, for a change of scenery, lunch and maybe some shopping.

extraordinarily bad coffee
  What a disappointment - crappy beach, only a few palapas to choose from and the “town” is a ratty little nothing.  Well, at least we had the worst coffee of our lives.

Mon 28th May, '12 Memorial Day
 0930 08.55 x 079.31 84F/82% depart Las Brisas de Amador
 Anchored in Taboga an hour and a half later.  Chewy $10 mooring fee.  Uncle Ted’s Agua Sol Villa.  Pacific Steamship Company ruins.  Hiked nearly the entire populated areas.  Overnighted.
Ted’s Agua Sol Villa

Lib II at anchor in Taboga

Pacific Steamship Co. ruins

In the mid 1800’s The Pacific Steam Ship Company was located on El Morro in front of Taboga Island. They had a fleet of 12 vessels and used Taboga to establish their mail and trade services between Chile and Taboga. From time to time there were from 100 to 700 workers employed, mainly from Scotland. They built and repaired passing ships, supplied water, storage facilities and operated a coal mill. They built warehouses for coal, oil, paint and metals. The coal stores, with up to 3000 tons, were conveyed to ships at the pier end on tracks by railway car. On the mainland the new Panama Railroad spelled the end of this prosperity. Rates were raised by the railroad and disagreements prompted the Pacific Steamship Company to move their base to the Peruvian port, Callao.

WWII bunker

Military and Aviation
WWII: In the 1940’s the US Navy who had a training base on Taboga, used the broad hill just under the Spanish Cross for their artillery practice. The military built bunkers, installed searchlights and anti-aircraft guns on top of the hills. The guns on Taboga and El Morro were used to increase the security of the Panama Canal which was considered at risk.
The last of the US Navy left Taboga in 1960, but the bunkers can still be seen. Taboga is still visited by retired US Navy servicemen every year, often with their families, who recall their special days on this peaceful Pacific island.
Taboga Island was the site of a German internment camp in 1917. The prisoners were later moved to New York under great protest.
Taboga was at the center of attempted Japanese espionage when Yoshitaro Amana, leader of a Japanese spy ring, planned to set up a business on Taboga so that the Japanese could study ships passing through the Panama Canal. He was exposed and deported to Japan.
Nearby where the old military bunkers were located at the top of the mountain (called the Watchtower) is a modern aviation tower which guides international flights to the Panama airports. 
 < courtesy >
mountain woman

This unassuming church was founded in 1550 and is the second oldest in the western hemisphere

Tue 29th May
 Steve checks the hull and stuck knotometer, I took a swim.
 1040 08.47 x 079.32 89F/73% depart Taboga.
 Glassy sea, negligible wind, sunny.  Ships all around us as we zigzag across just beyond where the Canal Lane begins.  1225 back at Las Brisas.
 Visited the Miraflores Locks long enough to see a few big’uns drop the 27 feet and pass through...

...and to have a wicked good buffet.  Three plates-full left me sufficiently sufoncified.

Wed 30th May

Thu 31st May
 Finally the boys acquiesced to my nagging to gamble and in the late afternoon we cabbed in to downtown Panama City.  There were a lot of Indians, diminutive souls in traditional garb, among the masses in the busy downtown streets.
Donde es Miguel?
 Dinner at Donde Miguel’s and we're off.
 The first few casinos we found had nothing but slots & sluts.  We finally fell into one, the Gran Hotel Soloy and Fiesta Casino, that had a few blackjack tables and a roulette wheel.  Unfortunately there were only six chip colors and therefore a maximum of only six players.  Why they wouldn’t open the other table, I don’t know.  Eventually a kind lady nodded to me that she was leaving and I scrambled over to take her seat.
 I threw down a Benjamin but since they only had a total of $100 in a given color, gave me $50 worth and two $25 chips.  Minimums were 25 cents inside and 5 dollars outside so at every roll nearly every number was covered and usually by several players.  After the spin, that the croupier had to sort all those chips and was very slow calculating the payoffs made for a very slow game.  I put up with it for maybe a half hour - four or five spins - broke even and we were off.
 Told the night life was on Uruguay Street, that’s where we went and found, or rather were coaxed into, Soho, with 1980's flashing lights and decor and where a simple dirty gin martini is a chore to order.
 I haven’t had a girl send me her name and number on a waitress-delivered napkin since, well...never.  Gosh was I flattered that the lovely Mariana sent me one from her table across the outdoor deck.  I figured either she had a yen for the Kenny Rogers type or was one of the hungry-for-hetero girls the admeasurer spoke of.  Built up my courage with another martini and with a nod and a wink signaled her for a rendezvous inside where the salsa was blasting.  Boy, was I dancing - the salsa king, I'm sure!  But as her soft hand led me into an adjacent dimly-lit, over-upholstered room and cuddled up to me whispering el último precio, I understood.  Geez, talk about naivety!
 I later rejoined my fellow musketeers and we spent a while talking with a trio of young Frenchmen who were on shore leave from a mega-ship about to transit the canal.

Fri 1st June
 I wasn’t up till past two by which time Steve and Mike’d hoisted the dinghy on deck to address the new leaks on the other side.  The epoxy had cured for several hours and the li'l launch was already back in the water by the time I started working through a pot o’ joe.
 Not up for yet another trip to the massively annoying Albrook Mall, I stayed aboard while Steve and Mike went provisioning.

Sat 2nd June
 Over the past week we’ve picked up enough abandoned tires, at least a dozen, to more than encircle the Lib during the canal transit.  Conveniently, all but one was already wrapped in plastic taped in place.  That prevents black streaks on the hull when we inevitably rub up against other "transiters", tugs or the canal walls.

 We’ve also located several volunteers for the required quota of line-handlers.
 A call this morning from Roger, our agent, had us dinghy in to collect the 500 feet of line for the canal transit, the last element required.  Late in the day received notice to "be at Buoy #2 off Flamenco Lighthouse at 0600 Monday".  Wee-hoo.  Finally in the queue.  Lines ‘n tires ‘n buoys, oh my!
 Steve is on a cooking jag.  Rice, rice with eggs, rice with veggies, rice with rice.  Also anything in the freezer because last time, flying home from Huatulco, we had to throw out a bunch; this time we're using it up.  His ulterior motive is to turn off the freezer because just sitting at anchor it is a big drain on the batteries.

Sun 3rd June
 Our last day, hopefully, on the Pacific side of Panama we did a bit of provisioning, primarily for our ‘trip advisor’ and secondarily for our two volunteer line handlers, Astrid and Harley.  Having a trip advisor is not an option and for him we are required to have a hot lunch (it’s 93º right now), fresh, unopened water bottles and an ‘acceptable’ head.  Of course the same is suggested for the line handlers.  “Monkey fists” are not sex toys but lines (ropes) with a heavily-woven end and are pitched down upon us from each side of the canal for stability as the turbulent water fills the lock, typically a 26 foot rise or fall.   ‘Line Handlers’ are needed during the canal transit to catch and attach the monkey fists to our rented 125’ lines which are then pulled up by the fist-pitchers way above us.  
  So we swing by the curious Flavio’s homemade s/v with my flash drive to collect the Brazilian music he’d offered (Anyone but us enjoy Villa-Lobos?).  He entertained us with coffee and sailing tales while the music transferred.
 Dinghied on to Isla Perico for my last shot at internet for probably a while and Steve’s run.  Dinghy back to the Lib...but it wasn’t there!  Obviously, a freak-out ensued before we spotted her way out on the edge of the anchorage.  Bee-lining towards her, I see Flavio’s hand waving out his portal and we turn in his direction.  We’re like, wha?, huh? and he’s all coy, “What do you mean your boat has moved?”  He played that game until we were ready to go check her out and finally told the story that began minutes after we’d left him that morning: the wind had picked up abruptly and even after two nights solidly anchored the Lib had begun to drift, slipping from the rock or whatever had been holding us.  He said it had miraculously floated between several boats toward the rocky shore by which time five or six dinghies from surrounding boats had deployed and thrown lines to hold her still.  Flavio broke in through a hatch, somehow pulled the anchor up, found the key and drove her out to safety.
 Late afternoon Steve picked up Astrid and Harley, our volunteer line-handlers and we motored to La Playita for the night, a half hour nearer our morning start-point.

 "From Atlantic deep water to Pacific deep water the Panama Canal is 50 miles long.  It takes eight to ten hours to complete a full canal transit. The excavation for the Panama Canal was done in the narrowest points and lowest parts of the Isthmus of Panama.  The canal has a 3 set water lock system; the Gatun Locks on the Atlantic entrance and the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks on the Pacific entrance.  Each chamber of the locks is 110’ wide and 1,000’ long.
 The locks were built in pairs making it possible for two vessels to transit the canal at the same time in the same direction or different directions.
 Operations in the Panama Canal are very simple due to the mechanism developed by its engineers. The water that raises and lowers the vessels in the each of the locks, “a stairway whose steps are emptied or filled with water”, is supplied by gravity flow from Gatun Lake.
 The water enters each lock through a network of tunnels below the lock chambers.  The tunnels are based on 10 sets that extend below the chambers from sidewalls, and 10 sets from the main wall.
 The diameter of the water tunnels is 4.5’ and water is distributed through 100 openings on the floor of the chamber.  The Panama Canal locks raise (and lower) ships a total of 85 feet.  Fifty two million gallons of water are used and emptied into the ocean every time a ship transits the Canal."

Mon 4th June
 Up at 0500, and well before 0600 proceeded to Buoy #2, as instructed.  I circled slowly there for over an hour when we were told, “You are in the wrong place; please go to Buoy #6 and be ready for boarding by the trip advisor at 0815.  Yeah, whatever, wait some more, what else is new?  Slowly ambled back to where we had anchored overnight then at 0800 to B-6 as re-scheduled.  Two+ hours later here came the launch with Amado and Dennis (trainee) our trip advisors.  1015 we’re actually headed into the canal.
 I’m assigned the helm for the whole shebang and I like it.  Amado was cool and clear with his instructions, “More port John, more starboard, stay a quarter mile behind that ship”.  Cruising under the Bridge of the Americas, negotiating ships and boats faster or slower than us, hugging the marker buoys or swinging wide; I enjoyed it all.  When we entered Miraflores, the first lock, I was confident and ready for a new challenge and that it was.  The bottleneck of a lock condenses currents and turbulence so swinging the wheel to and fro is constant; no auto-pilot now.  The second set of locks, Pedro Miguel, lies just an hour ahead.
 Besides the locks, the canal is a winding river-like passage; lush, green, unspoiled by commercial buildings or houses.  In that setting it’s surprising when ships taller than the trees appear from around a bend.  The occasional locks afford me a chance to let my guard down for a while, sit back and watch our expert line-handlers do their thing.  Then, with the excitement of the locks over, more pleasant hours gliding northward to the Caribbean.  This kind of steering is hands-on; I seldom use the auto-pilot because, as Amado says, estamos montando la serpiente and always turning one way or the other.  Around mid-way the marker buoys reversed color; now red’s on the right.
 Darn, wish I'd thought of sending you folks links to the canal's webcams.  Y'all might could'a seen us go through.
 1600 Word came over the radio that we can’t continue on and must overnight in the northern end of Lago Gatun, just spitting distance from the last set of locks and the short stretch to Colon.  We tied to the world’s largest mooring ball (09.15.665N x 079.54.125W) and,
making the best of the situation, leapt over the side into the fresh water of Lake Gatun while Amado and Dennis disappeared into the distance on their pickup launch.

Tue 5th June
 We whiled away the morning and early afternoon swimming and diving off the mooring ball.  Mid-afternoon, about on schedule, our new trip advisors, MacLean and Carlos, arrived and we’re immediately off to tackle the last set of locks blocking us from the Caribbean.  Again, I took the helm as we did an hour of long, lazy circles waiting for the huge Torm tanker to leave the first chamber.  Finally in and tied to the rough cement sidewall we were surprised to see the giant Noble Express come in behind us.  I mean right behind us.
 It’s of the Panamax class, designed to fit, barely, in the 110’ wide canal chambers.
2½ half foot clearance
 The Noble is 105’ wide and like all the big ships she is dragged through by several locomotives on either side of the chamber.

 We were told that small boats and big ships never shared a chamber, but we’ve been told many things that weren't so.
 Unfortunately smart-ass, know-it-all MacLean ignored my suggestion that we secure the bow, not just the stern, to the side wall.  Sure enough the heavy turbulence swung us out till we were perpendicular to the wall.  Now he wants me to do a 270º to get us right.  In that small space it was more than I thought I could handle safely and called for Cappy.  Steve feathered her (like a 3-point turn with a lot more points) perfectly and brought us up to the tug.  We rafted to the tug for the first of three descents.  Unlike when we’re lifted, there is almost no turbulence on the way down.  Tying to the tugboat is a safety measure and much simpler than running a pair of lines from both sides of the boat to handlers on the sides of the lock.  In that case, as we are raised or lowered, the lines must be drawn in slowly to maintain tension or slackened before they snap.
 Through the last set, it was a short trip to open water.

 The advisors’ pickup launch collected them in Puerto Cristobal an hour before
sunset giving us just enough time to cross the busy canal lane to the opposite side of Bahia Limon and into Shelter Bay Marina before dark.

Wed 6th June
 Brown as berries and happy as clams with not much to do; wicked cool amenities at the marina and a big fat internet connection.

Thu 7th June
 Mike leaves early, taking cabs and buses from Shelter Island to Tocumen Airport outside Panama City. He knew I was considering the same mode of transport and emailed me the run-down from his boarding gate:
“The Shelter Bay shuttle (free) got me to Colon in 40 minutes and dropped me at the bus station.  I got right on an express bus to Panama City ($3.15).  It is clearly posted.  It was old but had air and a movie.  The big bag is not an issue as they store it under the bus.  After you are seated in the bus and have driven awhile they come and collect the fare.  Take the bus to the end of the line near Albrook Mall.  Taxis are everywhere and it cost me 25 dollars.  The airport is a long way out.  Easy and no problems.  The airport does have free Wi-Fi.  Good luck.”

 Steve and I spent the day removing the tattered sail and documenting the damage.  We stretched it out on a patch of grass for inspection and photos, bundled it up and left it on the foredeck where Alain could find it to offer a repair quote.  We hosed the boat down.  The freshly-washed boat covers and tarps were spread over as much of the boat as we could manage.  The food was all but gone, fridge and freezer switched off.  The dinghy was partially deflated and padlocked to the lifeline and outboard motor.  This would be a several-month hiatus so we tried to think of everything.  Since arriving we had been giving away the thirteen tires and when we left only five remained on the dock.

Fri 8th June
 With the Shelter Bay-Colon shuttle broken down and rumors of lane closures between here and Panama City, I decided to shell out the hundred bucks for a cab straight to Tocumen airport.
 This morning as I was dragging my gear down the dock toward the taxi, Steve, having previously planned to leave the next day, made some noises about going with me.  I said, “Well, he’s there waiting, engine idling, so be quick.”  Steve is quick.  We wound up sharing the cab straight from Shelter Bay to Tocumen Int’l.  There is one canal crossing and if a ship happens to be passing through it would mean up to a 45-minute wait in the car.  Fortunately, we zipped right across.   An hour and a half later we were checking bags.
 Poised to head home - after a long and wild cab from Shelter Bay we are sitting in Tocumen Int'l waiting for my flight to Houston then on to Charleston.

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