Panama: Beaches, beaches every where!
As we headed east toward the canal, we stopped over on a few tropical islands. Many of the islands had a great number of tropical birds, but some were large enough to support bigger creatures.
We did not discourage feathered hitch-hikers even though most left some unappreciated presents behind.
We can highly recommend the Red Frog Marina here in Panama. Everyday is a different nature experience in the adjacent National Park-- jungle and more jungle, sloths, monkeys, and of course tiny red frogs.
We made friends with Cengiz when we saw that he had tied up in our marina after his transit through the canal. He had quite a story to tell. He left Turkey last year intent on sailing around the world. He had no sailing experience. During his crossing of the Atlantic, he lost his mast and had to improvise a sail. It took him 35 days to reach Barbados. His family and friends were almost ready to give up hope!
Inland, the countryside of Panama is lush forest supporting a wide range of tropical plants and creatures.
Our transit through the canal began at 4:30am when we picked up our pilot. By daylight, we were entering the first lock. There are three possibilities of going though the canal--center chamber, alongside a tug, alongside the wall. We shared the lock a large ship. For the going up into Gatun Lake, we tied up alongside a tug with a 25m motor-vessel alongside us.
While waiting for our turn to go through the canal, we played tourist, visiting the Miraflores Lock overlook. This lock is part of the original canal. In the background, you can see a cruise ship going through the new larger locks.
Sometimes we even found more than sea shells! Check out this old ship chain. The corroded chain shows the layered construction ---a method that has not been used for a long time. Hopefully, we can date the chain and see how long ago a ship ran into trouble on this beach. While many treasure-laden Spanish galleons traveled through Islas Perlas where we found this chain, it must be post-1820, when chain began to be widely used on ships.
Fort San Lorenzo at the mouth of the Chagres. This Fort was built in the late 1600's to help defend the river from pirates like Henry Morgan.
11 hours after picking up our first pilot on the Pacific side we were dropping off our second pilot on the Caribbean side. A couple hours later we tied up in the Shelter Bay Marina toasting to a successful passage.
Our last planned stop in Panama was the Bocas del Toro. On the border with Costa Rica, it has more of a Caribbean flair.
After passing through three locks, we were at the level of Gatun Lake and the race began. We were asked to keep the speed of our ship as we were scheduled for one-day transit to the Caribbean. If you can hold a cruising speed of 8 knots you transit the canal in 12 hours. For slower boats, the only option is to spend a night in Gatun Lake. This adds extra expenses to the canal passage.
Along side this beach on Coiba was a notorious prison. The only thing imprisoned now was this shipwrecked yacht.
It took us a while, but we were finally able to spot toucans, high in the jungle canopy. This photo was made as we explored the Chagres river. Even though it is a stone's throw from one of the main shipping lanes of the world --the Panama Canal---the Chagres remains surrounded by untouched jungle.
LIfe is very hard as we wait for a weather wind to head north to the Cayman islands. We have to put up with top class resort facilities, hiking in a national park adjacent to our marina, and dining on tuna and lobster that can be purchased from the local fisherman for $5/lb.
From the marina, we could often hear howler monkeys calling. The first Spanish and Portuguese explorers must have been frightened to hear their roars first time, not knowing what monster might appear.
We checked into Panama in Puerto Amuerelles. Omar, the man in charge for yacht check in, was very helpful and very friendly. We greatly enjoyed spending time with him. It was very interesting to learn about the history of this town.
Our first pilot was an interesting guy. He usually pilots freighters though the canal. It was interesting to listen to his stories 'if something goes wrong' and hear how difficult it is to pilot the Panama-max ships through the new locks. Even though the most difficult vessels he has piloted through the canal are US nuclear submarines "where there is no where decent to tie up." Half way through the canal our pilot was exchanged for an equally qualified and likeable pilot. We heard more canal stories and also he told us also about catching the big one in Panamaian waters. We hope this pays out later with fishing the in Caribbean.
Going down, we tied alongside the wall with the ship behind us. This was more work for our line-handlers who had to attend to our ropes. Things got a little heated when the dock workers all of a sudden disappeared and there was no one to untie us from the bollards 10 meters above us. When the ship started to move toward us, there was a heated exchanged between our pilot and the lock-master. This skipper was ready to cut the lines, but luckily the lock crew showed up from somewhere.
Large electric locomotives maneuver ships through the locks.
The oropendola with its hanging bird nests was one of our favorites.
Thanks again to Team Thor photographer, Carolyn, who joined us for a couple of weeks in El Valle and the Perlas..
Our voyage down the coast from Mexico was relatively uneventful. We had everything from calm stretches to 40 knot winds off the Nicaraguan coast. The only constant was having to avoid these small boats with drift nets that were sometimes a long, long way out to sea, even in questionable seas.
Yachts go through the locks just ahead of ships.
The town was know for its Banana trade early in the 1900's. This dock, built by Chiquita in 1938 had seen better days. Today only a large oil loading facility for the Trans-Panama pipeline is the only ship facility left.
It is always amazing to see ships carrying cars squeeze into the locks. Just ahead of this ship you can see one of the stainless steel locomotives that guide the ships.
Upon arrival in Panama City, it was time to arrange for our passage through to the Caribbean. We worked with Erick Galvez, a local agent, who made arrangements for our transit. As this is the first time Thor was going through the canal, canal staff came aboard to make official measurements. Unfortunately, by canal standards, we are longer than 65 ft so we will require a fully licensed pilot for our passage.
Sailing to the Ends of the Earth
When we landed on this beach, we could hear howler monkeys screaming in the jungle canopy. On our return to our dingy, we found large croc tracks! Swimming not recommended!
Of course, we had to visit the new locks before leaving the Colon area. Built for Panama-max ships, they can take ships up to 900 ft. This equals up to 15,000 containers.
We often are asked about what these passages cost. The largest Panama-max ship through the canal was charged just over $1.2M. The standard ship through the 'old locks' pays around half a million dollars. For us, it was $2200. The alternative, is surely a long way around....but for us will be a future adventure.