Dream Time: Prepping for the Panama Canal

Join ABC News in tracking one couple's trip around the world.

ByABC News
February 9, 2009, 5:12 PM
Feb. 13, 2009— -- In April 2000, husband and wife Neville and Catherine Hockley fell head-over-heels for the sailboat Dream Time in a Long Island parking lot. In June 2007, they packed up their stationary lives in New York and set sail for an eight- to 10-year adventure on the water.

Today, Dream Time is the couple's home and office as they sail around the world, working remotely to run a New York-based design studio while blogging about their journey and documenting the people and places they discover along the way.

The plan is a complete circumnavigation that will take the Hockleys across the Pacific to New Zealand and Australia, then up to southeast Asia and over to India. They intend to travel up the Red Sea to Cairo before exploring the Mediterranean, crossing the Atlantic and returning to New York City.

Read excerpts from their adventure below and join ABC News in tracking their travels.

Watch the Hockley's recent conversation with ABC News Now.

View photos of Dream Time's travels.

Visit the boat's Web site to learn more about their journey.

Catherine Hockley writes: Well this is it….. February 20th is our date for transiting the Panama Canal. A canal official (Admeasurer) came to the boat with lots of questions, paperwork and a long tape measure to asses the boat and gave us the once-over before declaring us canal-worthy, happily we passed inspection and were given our official 'Ship Identification Number' and the transit date was set.

The Panama Canal is long, large and more than a little intimidating for the uninitiated, so to avoid any first-time jitters anywhere near the canal's unforgiving 100-ft. concrete walls, we are going for a little practice run on a friend's boat first. Vessels our size are required to have four "experienced and capable crew" to handle the lines going through the canal, so most boats need extra people, and we are going to help out on a friend's boat tomorrow. It normally takes about 24 hours to go from one side to the other. You transit the first three locks in the late afternoon of one day, anchor in the lake for the night, and then after negotiating the three remaining locks, you pop out into the Pacific by the end of the next day. Easy peasy right? I really hope so, It'll be our boat next week!

Now that we have completed most of the boat projects that we came here to do, the next fun challenge on my list is provisioning the boat for the next six months. There won't be many food shopping opportunities in the Pacific, probably not till we get to Tahiti in June or July, so I'm busy making lists of what I think we're going to eat and use for the next six months; Then all I have to do is figure out where I can put it all! We'll need all the basics like rice, pasta, oatmeal. Dried fruit, milk, eggs etc. Canned anything, like fruit and vegetables, fish and meat, even Spam made the list! (apparently it's fashionable again) and of course the essential m&m's, then all we have to think about is our en route provisioning, and that we leave in the capable hands of Neptune, and the fishing gods.

Sadly there'll be no room for non-essentials (yes, actually m&m's are essential!) and there's going to be no room for ice cream, so I've decided to find a way to eat ice cream every day til we leave, it seems like the only sensible thing to do.

Pacific here we come!

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.

Dream Time: Serviced engine -- changed oil, oil and fuel filters. (Total running hours 1299). Dismantled windlass, cleaned and lubricated. Removed headsail for minor repair/stitching. Tightened stuffing box. Removed headsail tracks on cap rails. Stripped caprail to bare teak in preparation for new tracks. Sealed under caprail. Marked anchor rode every 25' with epoxy.

Neville Hockley writes: I guess it's not every day you see a large Englishman paddling around a group of remote tropical islands in an "ulu" -- a handmade dugout canoe. I suspect, at least for the three Kuna fishermen I paddled past, that it was their first sighting -- it was the pointing, back slapping and fits of laughter (causing them to momentary lose control of their own ulu and nearly crash into Dream Time) that led me to this conclusion. I like to think that perhaps it was the first time ever a non-Kuna had paddled an ulu around Chichime Cays (consisting of two islands -- Uchutupu Pipigua and Uchutupu Dummat) and that this was a historic event, well, blog worthy, at least. But what made this whole scene really exceptional was that I was being chased by a little Kuna boy, probably no older than 9, paddling a bright yellow surfing kayak -- my kayak, and I'm rather embarrassed to say, was gaining ground! Before you jump to any conclusions, like I stole the ulu and was caught in a hot pursuit, Kuna-style, let me state for the record that it was an agreed trade.

We've been anchored in Chichime for three days; this regrettably will be our final stop in the San Blas, tomorrow we'll begin our journey up the coast to Colon and the Panama canal. Our stay in Kuna Yala over the last 37 days has been simply magical. And while the south Pacific calls us and we're excited to begin the next chapter of our expedition, we're feeling a little melancholy to be leaving this paradise behind. As though sensing our malaise, or more likely wanting to sell us a mola or two, a family of Kunas paddled over to greet us when we dropped anchor. We invited everyone on board to cheer us up. After a few ulu runs back to their island to collect everyone , we had a family of nine on board -- relaxing in the cockpit, children playing on the deck, exploring the cabin below, it was lovely. The father, Grimaldo, later invited us over to his island and gave us coconuts (which they sell for 25 cents a piece to the Colombian trade boats), fish and a private tour of his "estate." As it turns out the Kuna islands are like time shares, families each have a few weeks a year to live on the island, Grimaldo shares his little hut with 15 other families throughout the year.

After spending the late afternoon on Dream Time, our new friends had to leave, it was getting late and with no power or generator on the island I would imagine that trying to accomplish anything after 7:30 in the evening would be almost impossible. I ferried the children back to the island in our dinghy, and much to the delight of the eldest son, handed the helm over to him to steer. With the biggest smile imaginable he drove us back to the island. But unaccustomed to steering an outboard (your actions are opposite to the direction you want to go) he did a continuous slalom all the way back to the beach, meandering one way, overcompensating, then swinging back the other way. His brothers and sisters were in tears with laughter by the time we reached the beach. I nicknamed the boy "El Capitán" and gave him a little compass, explaining that perhaps it would help him navigate in a straight line in the future.

As we prepare Dream Time for our coastal voyage to Colon, regrettably we don't have the ulu strapped to our deck -- I won't be exploring the islands in the south Pacific in a Kuna-made canoe, which would have been so cool -- it was only a temporary trade. But the memories we have of these little islands, and more importantly of the people we met here, are far more valuable. Like spending the afternoon in a Kuna ulu and watching El Capitán having the time of his life in my yellow kayak.