We have been in Panama for a while now. Clearing in went without a hitch. Our vaccination certificates were sufficient, but on the second day we had to go ashore together again because the regulations had changed to the effect that the skipper alone is no longer allowed to register the entire crew. Mathias also had to pay a few extra fees because we didn’t clear in with an agent. We had to pick up the cruising permit for the Panamanian waters another day. The second time we were there, it looked like the official had forgotten that the permit still had to be issued. Mathias went back a week later and they finally started to fill out the form. This explains why some sailors have to wait a long time for the paper, while others get it immediately. It depends on the daily form of the official in charge.
We spent our time partly in the Las Brisas anchorage zone near Panama City, partly in the Las Perlas Islands. We had fled to the Las Perlas because the water in Panama City was full of plastic waste and the anchorage area is used by many ships, so it can’t be very clean at all. During our time there, two ships sank, which also contributes to the pollution of the water. Unfortunately, we had to realise that even the Las Perlas are no longer spared from the plastic flood. We anchored at an island where we were also during the Covid crisis. It was nice there then, but now plastic and wooden debris regularly floated past the boat and the beach was littered with plastic bottles and shoes that had washed up there. How can it be that people keep losing their shoes without noticing? Nature had a break during the pandemic and now everything is just thrown into the sea again? In any case, there is much more rubbish here than in Costa Rica or Mexico.
We used the time in Panama City to receive packages. For example, the new turbo for our engine. Mathias installed it himself and we tested the machine on the way to the Las Perlas, everything is fine again. We still can’t reach the old possible revolutions, but 2750 rpm is possible and thus a speed of 7-8 knots. That’s what you need for the passage through the channel.
After a long time of seeing only smaller cities, we saw the typical big city problems in Panama City. We hadn’t experienced the real Panama Cities after-work traffic at all during the Covid restrictions, so we made the mistake of taking the bus on Friday afternoon. On the way there, the bus was already filled to capacity, and on the way back we were stuck in traffic jams. I was able to observe the Panamanian way of driving. Indicating when changing lanes is completely unknown here, just like looking into the blind spot (at least with taxi drivers). From my bus window I observed a car in which three women with blue painted fingernails were sitting. One female passenger was gesticulating wildly at the driver. But she didn’t care, because she was concentrating on her mobile phone anyway, while turning left to take a side road that might avoid the traffic jam. Mobile phones at the wheel are nothing unusual here. After the women, a bus driver next to us set a new record: he could only steer with his elbows because he was handling two mobile phones at the same time. Nevertheless, we always made it home safely.
We are positively impressed by the handling of vaccination here in Panama. The vaccination facilities are brought to the people. In the middle of the bus station there are tables and chairs where doctors and nurses sit. You just go there and you can pick up your Covid vaccination or booster unannounced. Other vaccinations are also on offer there, and for us the best thing is that everyone gets them, even the foreigners. Mathias and I now have our booster shots. They were vaccinated with Biotech/Pfizer, so Mathias is now „cross“ vaccinated, but I am not.
Sometimes you meet funny people. Mathias likes to talk to other sailors and skilfully turns his anchor app into a topic when possible. In Las Brisas, he came across a sailor who was resistant to advice. He said that calculations are only interesting for him if they are mathematically exact and precisely capture all influences. Never heard of a model calculation? So instead of looking at what the app can do, he prefers to trust his gut feeling when anchoring. Nevertheless (or because of that?) he had just slipped with his boat through the anchor field. The chain on his boat was held completely without an anchor stropp, people like that are immediately categorised by Mathias as „enemy image – beware!“ When he then used as an argument that he now put a pile of chain next to his anchor, so nothing could happen, Mathias knew it was time to make an orderly retreat and take care not to drop anchor near this boat. The same sailor we saw again at the dinghy dock „locking up“ the paddles of his dinghy by wrapping a metal chain once around the handle. He clearly has a disturbed relationship to chains 😉
In fact, we also had trouble once in Las Brisas. We had only put out about 50 m of chain, because the boats are quite close together here. That was enough until a good wind came up with up to 32 knots. Then there was the muddy ground. We were on board and I quickly checked the app: we needed 90 metres. Mathias was already at the helm and shortly afterwards we slipped a few metres. So, we started the engine and held against it. Everything went well. When the wind had died down, we pulled up the anchor and sailed to a new spot further away from the dinghy jetty. There are fewer boats here, so you can deploy more chain. In the strong wind, we were not the only ones whose anchor slipped. Fortunately, the crews of the boats around us were on board and were able to control the situation, as we were. However, one boat behind us was really squirming around. This is an indication that you should not leave your boat alone at anchor for long periods of time.
But we also met nice people: Helen and Phil from New Zealand. They were looking for someone to fill gas bottles at the same time as we did. Filling our two large gas bottles worked out here, even though we probably paid too much for it. With Helen and Phil we visited each other a few times on the boats. Now they continue in the complete opposite direction. They were in Europe and want to get back to their home country as quickly as possible. As it is not the usual season for a Pacific crossing, they are waiting for a suitable time window and are in contact with a weather service and route planner in New Zealand. We, on the other hand, contacted our canal agent and prepared to sail from west to east through the Panama Canal.
Mathias wandered through a previously unknown residential area in Balbao. After all, we are allowed to move around freely again:
Before we set off, we pulled into La Playita Marina. We wanted to have the Volvo engine service done and also stock up on provisions. On the Atlantic side, it’s not so easy to get to larger supermarkets. We had already asked the Volvo people a while ago. But they didn’t manage to get back to us. The branch here doesn’t seem to be interested in orders.
We set off from the marina at 4 am on Sunday 10th June 22. We had again had line handlers organised by our agent. This has the great advantage that they know what to do. So three nice young men came on board with us. In front of the marina, the advisor was dropped off by control boat. On canal trips of small boats, there is an Advisor not a pilot. This means that the skipper is still in charge.
The journey in the west-east direction is faster because we did not have to stay overnight. By leaving early, the passage could be covered in one day. Catering also becomes easier, we only needed to provide breakfast and lunch. Breakfast went down well, everyone was hungry after we had already done the first round of locks. Lunch was a bit more complicated. The right time could not be predicted and my pre-cooked lasagne took ages to heat through in the oven again. I’m afraid the food was only lukewarm then.
We passed the Miraflores Locks behind a cargo ship. We moored to the side of the tugboat. That was relatively easy.
On the trip across Lake Gatun, however, the freighter overtook us in terms of speed and you also have to enter the Agua Clara locks before the big ship because it goes down there. Since we were alone and there were not enough staff at the locks (Sunday?), we had to tie up on the side wall instead of in the middle of the lock. We put all the fenders we could find to one side of the SAN. Protected like this, there was no more weak spot and we could slide down the rough concrete walls.
After the locks we entered the Atlantic.
We spent the first two nights in Shelter Bay. We had to recover from all the excitement. I even had sore muscles because I was constantly running back and forth during the canal trip. I should probably start a fitness programme…..
Next stop was the bay at Puerto Bello, here it is quieter and there are radio towers.
The two rear solar panels have been switched from the Watt-and-Sea solar regulator to one of the master voltage regulators and now charge the batteries better.
Cables don’t live long in this climate. Mathias turned two chargers into one. This is how his computer is still kept alive with difficulty. The keyboard and the Trek-Pad no longer work and now we have run out of charging possibilities. We will probably treat ourselves to a new computer in Germany, but it will have to come back with us to the terrible climate here. So there will only be one new one. Therefor we are already looking forward to the „computing time“ battles, because such a new computer promises a hitherto undreamed-of increase in speed not only for programming but also for editing films!
Now it’s time to pack and prepare the boat for its stay on land: In August we want to fly to Germany for a visit.