Thursday, February 16, 2017

Arriving Panama Canal and Colon

17 06 2007 Panama Canal

We sailed through the night and as we neared the Panama Canal shipping traffic became busy, it was a good nights easy passage now for a bit of hectic time.
(After leaving San Blas and sun has set makes for a pretty scene)

We neared the Panama Canal entrance into Colon not that we are going that far in as we had decided to go into Shelter Bay Marina which is just inside the entrance and up a channel to the starboard side.
(Shipping lanes are busy here, ships are coming from all directions)

I called Panama Control on the radio three times and did not get an answer. I was watching out for ships going everywhere so I asked Nancy to give them a call and they answered straight away. I said to her you have got that job from now on. They gave us permission to enter and stay on the starboard edge until we turn off.
As we approached the marina Nancy called them on the radio and they told us where we should berth. They were there to meet us and help secure us. The marina is the old Navy depot that the USA had before they handed the canal back to the Panamanians and now has been turn into a flash marina.
 (Our Alana Rose in the marina)
(Part of the marina the building is the workshop where Anderson lives when he is not working)

When we went to the office to book in, I told them that I had to clear in with the Port Captain, the young lady told me that it is weekend and I could catch the courtesy bus into Colon in the morning and do that. She also warned us about Colon, do not walk the streets, use our courtesy bus , it goes to the Safe Shopping Centre and back twice per day and to the Port Captain and bus terminal if you want to go to Panama City.
So it was time to clean the boat and fill up the water tanks and then relax. After finishing the work I went for a shower, well you should have seen this place, the showers are in separate rooms and the shower is a modern fibreglass case , the shower water hits you from all directions and has music you can select inside the shower cubical, they also have a spa bath. No wonder it is expensive here.
After cleaned up we headed for the bar for a cold beer, at sea we have dry ship, no drinking at sea. We met Anderson the bar/restaurant Manager he could speak good English and so could most of the other staff the exception was Miguel who tried his best, but was an exceptional waiter.

18 06 2007 Monday

We caught the 0800 hour courtesy bus into clear in at the Port Captains we were joined by another Australian (Kiwi) couple and their son also had to clear in and others going to the safe shopping centre. When we got to the Port Captains office the Captain asked if he could help us the Kiwi said you go first so we did. The Captain asked when we arrived and I said yesterday and he blew up saying how he could fine me they run a 24/7 service and we should have come in yesterday. Then he calmed down and checked our papers noting that we were already cleared in he said there was a Port Captains fee of $10 US, I paid it no receipt given, he added it to a large roll of notes out of his pocket. The Kiwi’s had not cleared in and when they were asked when they arrived he said first thing this morning, when he cleared in and paid his dues including the Captains fee and we got outside, I asked when did you get in, he said Friday night but after what he did to you I was not going to tell him that. Graft and corruption is alive and well.
(Entering Colon)

(Colon is not a pretty place)
The courtesy bus picked us up and we went to the safe shopping centre. You may ask why it is called that. Well around the outside the shopping centre is armed guards with machine guns and pistols. Colon is not a nice place. Tourists have been stabbed and robbed, they have cut peoples fingers off to get a diamond or gold ring off.
(This is part of the safe shopping centre)
(Me waiting to get on the courtesy bus)

After shopping we caught the bus back to the marina, to travel to and from the marina is about a 20 minute ride one way and you have to cross Gatton Lock, where we and ships enter to go through the canal, at times we were held up there whilst a ship entered the lock, the road goes across the top of the first lock.
Tonight we had dinner at the marina restaurant after having a few drinks and laughs with staff at the bar. These staff members live on site in really makeshift accommodation, Anderson has a bed in the old workshop office and others are spread in other small sheds and buildings. All the staff comes from Panama City some 80 kms away, they get paid $1.29 US per hour, they cannot afford to travel back and forth each day, so they work 6 days and go home for their day off. I asked why people this end of the canal don’t work here, the reply was people from Colon don’t want to work they prefer to steal.
When we sat down for dinner on the table is a bottle of red wine to entice customers to buy it, the wine was an Australian Wydham Estate Merlot, Nancy happened to comment that she like the Wydham Estate Cab/Sav and I agreed. We did not have wine that night as we had enough beer.


Cleaning boat day, we started giving the boat a clean inside and out, it is very hot and humid at the moment like the build up to the cyclone season in Darwin and of course it is the build up here for the hurricane season but we are outside the hurricane belt but still get storms. The air-conditioning is running 24/7 on the boat.  

As we were on deck some people gathered at the empty berth next to us then a large Catana  catamaran arrived, the skipper noticed I was nosed in and follow suit but the problem was that his cat was longer and a lot higher than ours therefore it was too difficult to get off. So he reversed out and started to turn around, one of his crew did not secure one of the ropes properly and it went over the side and got tangled around the props. One of his friends ashore dived in swam out and grabbed a rope and we all pulled to boat into place. The skipper was so embarrassed in front of family and friends, I just said very load so all could hear. “Don’t worry mate I have done the same myself probably won’t be the first time it may happen again”. He smiled and went to his family and friends.


Today we ordered a new water pump and engine mounts for the starboard engine, it will take a few days to get here, we had to go to Panama City to order them. So we went into town and caught the bus across to Panama City to have a look around. The bus ride cost $2 US. It is very colourful and they play movies, in Spanish, but I was a little shocked at the movies they played rather R Rated if not X Rated. But no one seems to care even the children. Panama City is way different to Colon, it is cleaner and friendlier. You still have to be on your guard for crims. The city is a very busy place but we had a good day looking around and organising the parts.
(Colourful buses, Gatun Lock and dock in the background)

 (This is the entrance to the first of three Gatun Locks, the road passes over the lock gates)
 (This is the lock that we will eventually enter, when inside the water fills to the top of the dark mark on the wall, there are three locks that do the same lifting you to a level of 80 metres which is the level of the lake and passage to the Panama City end of the Canal where the process is repeated through the Miraflores Locks in reverse)
(We are held up at the gates whilst a ship enters the lock)

The highway to and from is good and colourful in parts with their adds for the duty free shopping all aimed at the tourists. The passenger liners pull into the terminal at Colon and are conveyed by bus to Panama City. We caught a taxi back to the bus terminal after having lunch. One tip when catching a taxi, ask how much it with cost first before you get in there are no meters.  With us it was $5 US. 

We returned to the marina via the bus to Colon and then a taxi to the marina because we had missed the courtesy bus. When we returned we went to the bar for a drink, Anderson was serving us and after the first drink he asked if we were staying for dinner tonight and we said no we had lunch in the Panama today so we are good. He said have a look at the wine on your table. Miguel had searched for the Cab/Sav with the suppliers and got a carton delivered. We said we would come in for dinner tomorrow night.


We had a visit from our neighbour with the Catana this morning, he came to thank me for what I said, he said, “ Thank you for not making me look so bad in front of my family and friends”. He asked what we were doing and we told him about sailing to Oz. He said if there is anything he can do for us just ask. He said if you are going over to Panama City get the office here to call me and I will get my chauffeur to pick you up and drive you around, we thanked him but we never took him up on the offer. He told us that he had just bought the boat from the BVI’s and was sailing it back with his wife, his wife not being a sailor he was sailing really by himself. One morning it was a great day and he walked on to the trampoline and went through it, fortunately he grabbed the bridal rope and was being dragged along a screamed out to his wife, then he had to instruct her to take the boat off auto pilot and turn the boat around into the wind so he could get back on board. This done he had to head for a port and employ a couple of crew or his wife would not continue the voyage. He said as you saw they were not bright. Not sure what this bloke was but he used to fly himself in from Panama City each day to get work done to his boat in his helicopter .

Tonight we went for sundowners at the bar and after a couple of drinks Miguel came over and asked if we stay for dinner in his very broken English, we replied yes because we knew what he had done regarding the wine Nancy liked. He then prepared our table, a table he had allocated for us, as we seated ourselves he brought out two candles for the table and lit them. We were the only table in the place that had candles, he asked if we wanted to buy the bottle of wine that he had found for us, and naturally we had to. Miguel was an excellent waiter, I had seen him with a crowded restaurant a full tray of food near above his head winding his way around tables and at the same time looking around to see if people needed service. I told him I would take him home to Australia where he would make a fortune, it was a standing joke with us. One has to remember that this bloke was being paid $1.29 US per hour. The only benefit that these people have is that by law an employer has to pay staff a full eight hour day even if they only work for one hour.


Finally the parts have arrived, so we had to go to Panama City to pick them up when we got back I started work and replaced the water pump on the port engine then I had to get some assistance from a local bloke to change the engine mounts because I did not have a chain pulley to lift the engine. All done and tested it was time to sort out about going through the canal.
At sundowners at the bar the staff said if we wanted crew to assist, because you have to have four line handlers and the skipper at the helm, they would love to do it if we could give them plenty of notice before going through. They had never been through the canal itself.
(Looks official, yes it was department of health checking that we had Yellow Fever injections which we had before leaving Australia with many others)

23/06/2007 Saturday

Today we need to go to the Admeasure office, these are the people that come and measure your boat and give you the paperwork and how much it costs to go through the canal, and then you have to pay that money into the bank.

Most sailors use an agent to organise everything to go through the canal, they are usually Taxi drivers that have learnt the system, they say when you have organised it all it will be two to three weeks before you actually go through. We were given a contact phone number for a good bloke from Ernie in San Blas  and names of who to avoid, he said they hang around the Yacht Club in Colon so this morning we caught the courtesy bus and they dropped us off there. The yacht club is a little run down probably to blend in with the rest of Colon. Many yachts anchor out in the pond which is about 2 NMS from the club, Ernie advised against this as the water is that dirty and you will get a lot of growth on the hull. We asked around about the contact we had, but did not get much help we were pointed to another agent it was Wellington a bloke we was told to avoid. So we rang the number we had and was told he is not there and the person hung up. I rang again and was told no such person live there.

So we decided to do it all ourselves, we grabbed a taxi told him were we needed to go, he did not understand, he pulled someone up on the street that spoke English, we explained to him and he said he knew where, so off we go. We ended up at the passenger terminal, not the right place, in a little dilemma, a security guard came over and we explained to him what we wanted, he put the taxi driver on the right track and we were off again.

We came to this dockyard with security guards and we pulled up there, the guards ordered us out of the car and asked what we wanted. One has to remember these people generally do not like Gringos and although we are not Americans we are still white. The guard did not understand and pulled this lovely looking lady up and asked if she spoke English she said yes and translated for us. We were searched before we could enter. We got to the Admeasure Office and a young lady served us spoke perfect English fortunate for us, we booked the Admeasure to come and measure the boat cost of $35 US. Which I thought was not expensive. She said he would be there on Monday between 0900 and 1300 hours. We went back to the taxi and got to the docks gates and the guards again ordered us out of the car, they searched us again gave us a little hard time and then said we could leave. We were probably their entertainment for the day.

We got the Taxi to drop us at the Safe Shopping Centre where we could do a little shopping and catch the 1600 hour courtesy bus back to the marina.

24/06/2007 Sunday

We decided to go with the Kiwis to the Duty Free Centre so we caught the bus to Panama City again, we arrived at the Duty Free place and it is like a little city inside a city, it is surrounded by high walls and there is only one way in and one way out. When you enter you register at the office by showing your passport and then you are given a docket. The security guards check as you go in then we are approached by a bloke who wants to be our guide and get us all the special prices for a fee of course. We decline the offer and away we go, we were told that to make sure each item you but is under $50 US, so you don’t pay any tax, the stores actually give you a docket that shows that price even if you pay more, probably for their benefit not ours.
(Some units as we leave Colon on the bus)
 (Check the price of fuel, this is US gallon equals 3.75 litres)
 Entering Panama City by bus)
(Many shopping centres)
(Panama City bus terminal, they say there are more buses than taxis)
 (Basically advertising for the duty free shopping)

There was not that much there that we wanted, we purchased a watch and perfume for Nancy and I bought a three in one printer, which was more than $50 US on the tag but I only paid $50 US for it but they took it out of the box and put it in the bag stating that the guards will not bother looking. When we went through the exit the guards did not even look at us.
I am pleased we took notice of the Canadian back in Rodney Bay who said to buy things where we see them available because the Panama does not stock items that we often require.

Whilst at the marina I have installed the HF Radio and rather than put another hole in the hull Ernie told me to get 3 inch (75mm) wide copper strap and lay it as much as I can throughout the bilge but high enough that it won’t get wet and use this as the earth for the antenna tuner. I was able to get the copper strap here from a radio place run by an American but he had little else in stock, I was after a Pactor III which is a unit that you connect to the HF radio to receive and send emails through Sailmail. He said he could get one but it would take some time.


Waiting for Admeasure and he did not show, so at 1430 hours I went to the marina office and asked about. They said it was unusual they are usually prompt. The manager rang them and they apologised and said they would be here tomorrow.

26/06/2007 Waiting for Admeasure Still did not show, called again promise tomorrow.


At 0900 hours there was a knock on the hull when I went out there was the Admeasure, he introduced himself and I jokingly said I wondered when you would get here, he asked what I meant and I told him about waiting here the two days for him. He sincerely apologised and stated that the reason for it could be due to the fact that the people are doing safety courses and added that he had actually been sent down from Panama City to do the job.

He measured the boat with my help and then sat down to do the paperwork. He asked when I would be paying the money into the bank , I said as soon as you give me the paperwork I will catch the next courtesy bus into town and transfer the funds into the bank. He said right if you pay this afternoon you can ring this number after 1800 hours tonight and ask if you are booked to go through quoting this number on the card, you do this every night until they tell you the date and time. I thanked him and he left.

I went into town and paid the money into the bank, at 1805 hours I rang the number and they told me to be anchored at the pond at 1600 hours tomorrow, our adviser (Pilot) will board at 1700 hours and you will then be  going through the canal. I just about fell over, what happened to the two weeks that it usually takes after payment? We had to organise everything, line handlers, eight tyres to use as fenders and four 100 foot ropes of a certain diameter, naturally it is too short notice for the marina staff so I am going to have to disappoint them.
(very expensive to hire these ropes, but what can you do, you have to have them to go through the canal, they know they got you.)

We went to the bar and told the staff, they indicated that they could not do it, our Kiwi friends Moira and son Jack said they would love to do it Myra’s husband was away over at UK doing some financial stuff, Will and one of his crew Miriam said they would come with us. Will also has a catamaran that he sailed down the east coast and in rough weather the hull delaminated so it is on the hard getting repaired.

I had to hire the ropes and I found some tyres that the marina said they never had, well they have not got them now, they charged me a fortune for the ropes.
Am I nervous? Yes.

No comments:

Post a Comment