Productive pursuits in Panama; pacified Pacific produces pedestrian pace.
Hello from the Pacific Ocean!
Panama was an eventful and action packed stop, with much getting achieved to get us well on our way to San Diego and set us up for an efficient turnaround there, which is crucial to keeping within our tight timeframe.
The most obvious achievement of Panama was swapping oceans. It’s mad that we as a civilization have conceived a shortcut between two of the nature’s largest creations – Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. It’s also bloody convenient. On Tuesday afternoon we took José, our first pilot, aboard, and made our way towards the first set of locks. Two slightly smaller boats rafted up alongside us, and I drove the set of us into and through each lock. A little while later we emerged higher than Disco has ever been before, our two fibreglass fenders split off to their own devices once more, and it was nice to only be driving 50 tonnes of boat, rather than 100, again.
José took us the whole way through the Gatun lakes that night, and we motored through the dusk, sunset, and darkness. The entire route through is extensively buoyed, and the evening was spent hopping between a myriad of flashing lights and lit transits, with much larger shipping scattered between as they drifted in the channels waiting for the way further ahead to clear. A truly remarkable 24/7 operation, with up to 40 huge ships every day passing through.
Once through, we anchored up just before the canal to the Pacific set of locks. The idea of a romantic anchor in the lakes turned out to be far from the truth, and we were left on the inside of bend full of industrial works and running dredgers, tucked between the edge of the channel and the loudest dredging pipeline any of us have ever had the displeasure to try and sleep through. With very little space to swing between the two, I asked the pilot whether he expected the wind to change much during the night. With the answer of probably not, he was off, picked up by one of the many pilot boats, all of which seem to driven by people with the most incredible manoeuvring skills any of us have ever seen.
An fairly loud and uncomfortable night running an anchor watch to ensure we a) didn’t wipe out a dredging pipeline, or b) drift into the channel and get wiped out by a tanker (a very real possibly, I doubt they’d even notice hitting us) ended, with the wind changing and anchor finally starting to drag halfway through the morning. We held on in our little corner, and after several hours of trying to find out where the very late new pilot was, suddenly he was on deck, the anchor was coming up, and we were making up for lost time we hadn’t had anything to do with losing!
The second set of locks wasn’t quite as enjoyable as a skipper experience, but no less impressive to go through. We were rafted up against a large passenger ferry with a quite melodramatic and unhelpful crew, and another sailing yacht on our other side. This had to be carried out three times, and with both boats deciding on a different strategy every time, known only to themselves. It’s pretty challenging when you have 6 people either side of you shouting loudly at everyone in a mix of different languages, trying to get you to do something that doesn’t actually work on your boat. Backseat driving to the extreme. However, all the team handled it very well, letting them have it their way when it didn’t matter, and point-blank refusing when it was going to be damaging to our boat. I was very proud of them, and very unimpressed with the way some other people run their boats.
Once in the Pacific, there was a small amount of drama trying to offload our inspirational German yoga master, and despite attempting to drop him off at Flamenco Marina, we were immediately accosted by a team of marina staff who told us their boss didn’t like sailing yachts so we had to leave, despite there being an absolute abundance of free space and slips. I could write a pretty un-publishable paragraph on exactly what I think of Flamenco Marina, even after a nights sleep to cool off. Andrea and Renaud did a great job of negotiating while I feigned engine problems, but they basically wanted a silly amount of money to let Philipp get off, because they could, and we weren’t having that. Another unintended night at anchor (starting to become a theme of this trip…), and early this morning we managed to offload Philipp to another boat so we could get moving.
The other big achievements of Panama were a significant amount of planning and project prep for San Diego, and successfully obtaining US visas for a couple of the crew still without. This is a major result, as otherwise they were going to have to disembark in Mexico, and we would have had to move forward with no idea whether two of our core team members could continue to be involved, and in our current timeframe, it would have been impossible to replace either of them.
The wind is light and variable, as expected for the first bit of this leg up to San Diego. I’m looking forward to an instalment of weather info, upon which we can make a proper plan and strategy for the next few days, and factor in a refuel if necessary.
Believe it or not, the Pacific is about twice as hot as the Atlantic. Take it from 10 people with a stainless steel deck, no air conditioning, and an engine running 24/7 underneath their feet.