Lewis and Phil have a lot of sailing experience while Perrin has been sailing since she was small. Perrin adapts very well to her
first long passage while Phil turns a little green the first 36 hours or so.
We actually all feel the effects of the heavy wind and the large waves off the coast of Columbia. We have on average 15 to 20 foot seas the majority of the way to Panama. We head up as high as 14 degrees north latitude before making the final turn towards Panama.
During the passage, Lewis and Phil put out enough fishing line and lures to catch Moby Dick.
Phil gets a huge hit on our big Penn rod and reel combo. With 80-pound test and solid wire leader, the fish simply hits one time and snaps the line. Wow, big fish!
Three and one half days later we pull into Colon at 11 PM at night.
Skirting the entrance to the Panama Canal, we hail Cristobal Signal on VHF channel 12. They provide a quick window to swoop into the harbor before we can get T-boned by one of the big freighters. We head towards anchorage area F, better known as the “Flats”. Once the hook sticks, all 6 of us rejoice with a steak dinner and rum & cokes. Lewis, Phil, and Alex stay up until 5 AM yammering on about all of life's mysteries.
When light first dawns, we find that Scanhalla II is anchored right in front of us! We head over to say hello. Alle, Johno
and Inje are on board as are the owner John, his daughter Bridgette, and Inje's Mom.
They invite us to dinner that night. We accept. I run into the Yacht Club to do a ton of laundry for the crew of OOB. Phil, Lewis, and Perrin hit Colon to stock up on some provisions.
By the way, everything you may have heard about Colon being dangerous is very true. We hear at the Panama Canal Yacht Club to watch our step.
That night, Scanhalla II whips up a great supper and we spend the night enjoying their company. The only bad part is when someone
on OOB who shall remain nameless (not me!) ties a slippery knot on Scanhalla II's dinghy painter. The dink makes a quick getaway, but is found the next morning hugging some beach side shrubbery.
Saturday, 3/8 - Friday, 3/14/97
We have arranged through the Delphino Maritime Agency to take care of all the assorted
paperwork to go through the canal.
We called them from Aruba and set everything up with a guy named Peter Stevens. The end result is that we arrive late Thursday, get cleaned up on Friday, have the forms dropped off Saturday morning as well as getting admeasured. It’s Saturday afternoon, and are ready to transit Sunday Morning. This really pisses off the crew of Scanhalla II as they have been waiting a week to get admeasured and transit. If anyone wants to transit the canal, the extra $300 or so for the agency is worth the money. Way less stress and quicker transiting. We definitely didn't want to stick around Colon.
Here's how it goes when you want to transit the canal in a
small boat. First, you fill out about 30 forms. Questions include; how many people died on the voyage? Bill asked everyone to raise his or her hands so he could count. Boy, were we glad to find all six in relatively good health (Lewis still looked a little green from his late night foray, however). Next, you have to have someone come out and measure your boat so they know how much to charge you (they call this admeasuring). This is what takes the longest, trying to get the adrneasurer from the Panama Canal Commission (PCC) to come to your boat. You then get put on the transit list and wait until they have a slot next to a freighter that is less than 800 feet. The reason for the length restriction is because they can only take 1000 feet in total length in the locks. If you are too close behind the freighter when they kick the engines into gear, you can get flushed back against the lock doors. They also have to assign you a pilot that stays on board the entire time you are moving through the canal.
So here's what happened to us.
Sunday morning at round 5 AM, Bill hears us being hailed on VHF channel 12. How Bill actually hears this and gets up at 5 AM is beyond me. Peter Stevens from Delphino says that the pilot will be on board at 6:30 AM. We wake everyone up and prepare the boat by putting out the fenders and clearing the deck. We also have to have four 100 foot lines ready in case we transit by ourselves. The four lines would hold us in the very center of the locks if needed.
At about 9:00 AM, Walter, our PCC pilot is dropped off. Walter is a very professional chap and very knowledgeable as we will soon
One problem, though. Just as Walter hops on board and asks if we are ready to go, the windlass quits. I hit the up button and nothing happens. Bill and Alex run forward and we start pulling the 125 feet of 3/8 chain up. This is not an easy task with 20 knot winds and the silty mud bottom. With one huge last tug, the anchor is freed from the muddy bottom and the final 30 feet comes up. We secure the anchor and head towards the first set of locks.