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Friday, February 28, 2014

Febuary 27, 2014-Judy Returns from Florida

Panama City

We are lost. Its 1:00AM and we're driving through the rough interiors of Panama City. Its dark, there are no other cars and nobody on the streets, hardly a lighted building. We got off the track somewhere coming back from the airport.

I'm not worried however; as long as we don't wind up at a dead end with a bunch of surely Panamanian youths I know I will find the hotel eventually but scenes from Bonfire of the Vanities swirl through my head.

Judy is navigating with Google maps and the android phone, but she is exhausted from the trip and from her time in Florida with Margie. She is incoherent, but she is trying to help.
"Turn right here," she says.

I am skeptical but I see a sign: Balboa Avenue. Now I am jubilant, from Balboa Avenue I can get to the hotel and I accelerate onto the elevated roadway. At 1:30 we reach Belle Vista and turn into the driveway of the hotel. The guard opens the gate and we're here. We have the penthouse tonight, what luxury, and we head up.

I love Panama City. The high rise buildings are stunning. The city is clean and modern. By day the streets are vibrant. But I didn't like getting lost at night.

The next day we have to go to the Canon warehouse to pick up our printer. We have a paper with directions, but the street names don't match up and besides, few of the streets have signs. Traffic is bad. We wind up in the Cinco de Mayo area. Here is a maze of narrow lanes, crowded with people, but the cars are moving; at least we can go somewhere. The freeways, on the other hand, are gridlocked.

Then Google packs it in. I don't know the problem but for the moment, it is useless. For the second time in 24 hours we're lost. The patina of Panama City is starting to wear thin.

We have a brochure with a map and a few streets on it. One I recognize from the directions: Ave. Frangipani. The warehouse is on Frangipani. But it's on the other side of the city. We set out again.

And of course we have another hour of cruising aimlessly before we see a landmark from the directions. Then everything clicks. By 2:00 we have our printer and we can head back to Colon happy to get on the highway north. Nothing left to deal with now but an empty gas tank, empty stomachs, and a baffling system of toll booths. But we're making progress. Judy is back, we've got our shopping done, and Wings is not too far away.

When we get to the boat maybe things can get back to normal.

Click here for shots of Panama City

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Panama

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Febuary 24, 2014-Panama Canal Trial Run

Panama Canal

Colon: the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. Boats here are going through the canal to the Pacific; half a dozen today and more arriving each a day to get into the queue. Most will head out into the Pacific Ocean to the Galapagos Islands and then across Australia. But first they need to get through the canal and for that they need crew to handle the lines in the locks. Line handlers. I was asked if I would go with Derek and Ann Marie on Sand Groper, a 46' catamaran.

OK, why not? Judy is in Florida; I am alone on the boat here in Colon. I could use the experience. We won't be taking Wings across the Pacific Ocean again but we will go through the canal before heading to Mexico. Besides, they will feed us. I agree.

I join Sand Groper and in the evening we set out for the Gatun Locks. It's interesting and exciting. Maybe a little challenging for Derek, our skipper; it's windy and the quarters are tight as a huge container ship glides by at close quarters to go in ahead of us. Along with two other yachts, to whom we raft tightly just outside, we enter the first locks. They are chambers of concrete with iron gates at both ends, long but not particularly wide. I am, however, impressed about how high the sides are. The locks must lift us 85 feet to the level of Gatun Lake before we can motor across the Continental Divide to the Pacific side of Panama and then be lowered again to sea level and the walls tower over us. The lock tenders high at the top of the walls throw monkey fists down then take our lines up to the bollards. They are silent, watching impassively as the lock floods with swirling water and we float higher. We are tossed around. The Panamanian advisor from the Canal Authority on our yacht reminds me to take in the slack on my line then secure it tightly as a swirl of water tries to throw us against the wall. I pull on the line then tie it off. I know my back will be sore after this night. I sit down on deck to be able to reach the cleat without bending over. I change the way I am tying it off the line so there is less chance of a jam. I am learning from this trip.

I am also thinking about how we will sleep six people on Wings when we come through, and what we will cook them; good meals are expected.

Then the gates open and we move into the next lock. There are six in total.

Twenty-two hours later, after a night anchored on Gatun Lake, we cleared the last lock gate and passed into the Pacific. Quite an experience.

Click here for some photos.

Fred, aboard Sand Groper, Panama Canal

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Febuary 12, 2014-One Day at the Beach and then...Panama City

Judy in the Water

We watched the weather and took our opportunities to work our way west from the Eastern San Blas.

We needed a window to get to Colon and then Panama City to get Judy on a plane. Her sister in Florida needed her.

Tuesday looked good; we'd leave the San Blas in the afternoon to get to Colon by Wednesday morning.

Time for one last day at the beach.

Our favorite location for private swimming was just around the corner from the Hot Tub anchorage (and that's as close as I'll get to telling you where it is) and we took the dingy over. We ran barefoot in the sand and swam in the deep, clear, cool water. It was marvelous there, and even though the light was not good for those stunning beach photos I wanted you can get the idea from these shots . We loved it

Back on Wings we made ready for sea; the dingy was put away, the awnings struck, sails bend onto spars.

At 17:00 we raised the main and sailed off the anchor and made our way out between the reefs, then we set the jib and turned west.

By sunset we were on a good breeze and we cleared into the open ocean between Hollandes and the Lemons. Sailing was fine and the farther west we went the freer we found the wind. Wings flew.
Now a new problem arose: we were going too fast. Before midnight we had to get the jib off and that took us down to six and a half knots; slow enough maybe. At 0800 we arrived at Shelter Bay Marina in Colon.

A day or so in Colon, long enough to clear in and decide Colon was basically a slum, (the whole place, but we saw that the Panama Canal looked interesting; we'll see for ourselves soon enough), and long enough for us to make Judy's flight arrangements to Florida and for us to catch a bus to Panama City.

Now Panama City is something else. For one it is stunning. The high rise buildings, the freeways, shopping centers, and it is huge, modern clean and buzzing. The Pacific ocean looks serene after the tumultuous Caribbean, I guess that is what Balboa thought too, since he gave it the name "Pacific".

We had time to have some minor dramas, senior moments I'd have to say, which are better left un-described, but we finally got to the hotel, checked in and everything was good. Dinner in the old town at Cafe Rene with some Panamanian rum and a bottle of Malbac, and we were feeling no pain and it was surprising that we found our way home to the hotel, but we did.

Judy is now in Florida and I am back on the boat in Colon, doing minor boat projects and enjoying the heck out of Happy Hour at Shelter Bay Marina, and planning our Panama Canal Transit. We'll go into Gatun locks in March and head back to the Pacific Ocean, which we crossed heading west in 1998 (we're still heading west, 16 years later).

And that will be another new adventure.

Click here for more photos.

Fred (and missing Judy), SV Wings, Colon, Panama

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