Dream Time: Prepping for the Panama Canal

Jan. 24, 2009. Day 606: Colon, Panama

Neville Hockley writes: The Gutan locks, the first of six that will raise Dream Time over 100' and back down again into the South Pacific, are just a few miles away. The reality of our coming transit from one ocean to another, a new ocean that will see us into the southern hemisphere and across the international dateline, an ocean that, unlike the Caribbean, demands a dedication to cruising that few are willing, or able to commit to, an ocean where our first leg will be 1,000 miles, our second leg (from the Galapagos to the Marquesas) 3,000 miles of open sea -- that's about 3-4 weeks of solid, 24/7, non-stop sailing -- yes, the reality of our transit is beginning to settle in.

Our cruise from the San Blas up the coast of Panama was perfect, beautiful weather -- strong winds on the stern, clear blue skies and 8 - 10' swell to surf, Dream Time regularly hit 10 knots sliding down the face of the big waves. We decided to explore a little of the Panamanian coastline and made stops at Isla Grande, Isla Linton and Portobello, all picturesque islands and coastline that our 4-day transit never really allowed us to fully explore or appreciate. But we did climb to the top of Isla Granda's lighthouse to get a stunning 360 degree view of the island. We relaxed in a reggae bar that played nothing but Bob Marley. And we explored the Bay of Portobello -- first 'discovered' by Christopher Columbus on Nov. 2nd, 1502. We entered the bay under sail, wind power alone, and dropped the anchor off the northern shoreline blanketed in vegetation, a view, I suspect, almost identical to the one Chris observed over 500 years ago. We were greeted to the anchorage by a group of unseen Howler monkeys that wailed, hooted and croaked for almost an hour after our arrival.

But today we're living on Dream Time in Shelter Bay Marina's car park, like a couple of gypsies. For the first time in nearly two years, we were hauled-out in order to prepare the boat for the next chapter of our world cruise -- the Pacific. We have quite an impressive list of projects to tackle over the next few weeks -- add a few fresh coats of anti-fouling paint to our keel, raise our boot top (water line) and a dozen or so other projects (some of which have already been completed and are listed below).

There's an energy at the marina as sailors prepare for their transit through the canal. Stacks of old car tires wrapped in plastic and tape, used as crude fenders in an effort to protect topsides from the unforgiving concrete locks, are heaped up along the dock. Piles of 125', 3/4" rope, rented by sailors as dock lines for transiting through the canal are loaded onto boats during the final preparations. Buses shuttle boaters into Colon and Panama City to stock-up on last minute supplies and gear.

For those who are transiting through the canal and heading into the expanse of the Pacific Ocean -- the largest ocean in the world that covers almost a third of the world's surface, their time here in Panama is like a base camp -- a final chance to prepare the boat, and crew, for what will be for many, the most significant sailing experience of their lives.

Tomorrow we'll be meeting our Panama Canal agent who will arrange all the details of our transfer -- boat measurer (to determine how much the transit will cost -- about $1,000) our clearance papers from Panama, delivery of our very own car tires and dock lines... all we need to do is everything else.

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