Las Perlas, Panama

For the first time since we started our trip we have to consider tides. And right now they are spring tides with over 18 feet difference in ebb and flood. Something else to keep in mind when parking the boat! We enjoyed a very calm and relaxing sail over to the Las Perlas island archipelago yesterday and saw an abundance of wildlife including whales, pelicans, rays, turtles,… It was nice to say goodbye to Panama City but sad to part from our friends we’ve been travelling with since Gibraltar… We plan to rest up in Las Perlas for a few days and then start off on our biggest crossing yet. From here to the Marquesas it’s around 3800 NM! We might consider a stop at Galapagos; we’ll decide when we’re on the way and it will depend on the wind! At the moment the weather is very calm and the first few days will be without much wind. But we’re ready for it and the boat is heavier than it’s ever been, filled to the brim with diesel, water and provisions.

Check out our mailasail blog for regular position updates (http://blog.mailasail.com/rehua

Panama city

lots of pelicans…

   

we saw many logs, great transport for lazy birds

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The Panama Canal 

What an amazing experience! We were exhausted when we finally dropped anchor yesterday afternoon in La Playita, two days after we started our transit. A welcome committee of friend boats were waiting for us and we got a real sense of achievement. We made it to the Pacific side! 

We left Shelter Bay Marina Monday at midday with our three extra line handlers (it’s a requirement to have four line handlers on board). We radioed Cristobal Signal Station as soon as were anchored in the flats and were told the advisor would arrive at 19.45. A long wait… but nothing we could do about it. Two other boats were waiting too, one of them our buddy boat Taff Tumas. We couldn’t have arranged this if we had requested it but somehow we ended up crossing the Canal on the same day and even “nested” together through the locks. Hector, our advisor, was dropped off by the pilot boat at exactly 19.45 and asked if we kept him some dinner. Shortly after we lifted anchor and headed into the Canal just behind a big container ship. There are three locks to get through before arriving in Gatun Lake and the whole process took just over 3 hours. Everything went very smooth without any stress thanks to the professionalism of the line handlers and especially the advisor. Gatun is a fresh water lake and after a hot and sticky day a swim would have been very welcoming but we weren’t too keen on the crocodiles … Quick shower instead!

The next morning was a rude awakening when he pilot boat dropped off our advisor, Edwin, at 6am. We motored through Gatun Lake and arrived at the other side around 11am, ready for the three locks that would take us into the Pacific. Again, everything went very smooth and we all enjoyed the whole experience immensely.

The anchorage in La Playita is disappointing. It’s roly with many pilot boats zooming past causing huge waves. But it’s a convenient stop to stock up on fresh fruit and veg and have access to a big city before we head over into the  Pacific!   

approaching the canal

  

kids reunited

  

first set of locks

  

line walkers

  

best viewpoint

  

happy girls

  

into the next set of locks

  

going up

  

locks…

  

and more locks

 

another line walker

  

the captain and his advisor

  

arrival in lake gatun

  

our happy line handlers

  

ninja turtle (thanks Elizabeth!)

  

new best friends

  

gatun lake

  

birds on top of buoy

  

little visitors on the radar

  

gatun lake

  

drill head for dredger

  

dredger

  

tugboat testing fire system

  

locks on the pacific side

  

catching the monkey fists

  

down we go

  

almost down

  

line walker

  

thirsty work

  

and we keep going

  

line handlers

  

gates to the pacific

  

bridge of the americas

   

  

Colon, Panama

It’s weird being in a marina again (the last time was more than 3 months ago when we were in Cape Verde)! Having unlimited water and electricity is sheer luxury! We arrived here on Monday and getting into the harbour was quite an experience with so many big ships around! On Tuesday morning somebody from the canal authorities came to measure the boat (a requirement before they schedule your transit). We could have gone through the canal on Wednesday but as we didn’t expect such a fast turnaround we simply weren’t ready and need to do the provisioning and maintenance jobs first (when we get to other side of the canal we will anchor and not be in marina making all those things harder to do). So we are now booked in for our transit on Monday.  We will leave the marina around lunchtime together with 3 extra line handlers and a transit advisor (which is obligatory and provided by the canal authorities) and go through the first set of locks into Gatun Lake where we will anchor overnight. The next day we will then do the second stretch arriving in the Pacific mid afternoon.

The boys are having a ball hanging out with other marina kids who are also being neglected by their parents busy preparing their boats for the Pacific. The marina has great facilIties and the kids have been making great use of the swimming pool and the space to skateboard and scooter around. The air-conditioned library and lounge area have been perfect for morning school work and with other kids around it almost felt like being in a proper classroom! Our days are very busy here. My main job is to do the provisioning … Preparing for the Altantic crossing was easy in comparison. This trip is much longer and most of the Pacific Islands will not have supermarkets. We need to plan months and months ahead. I did the first part of the provisioning yesterday and managed to get a van load full of beer, water, juice, tinned foods, pasta, rice etc back to the boat. Now comes the job of stacking, storing and organising. We need to write down where everything is stored in the boxes under the beds as otherwise we’ll forget what we have and where to find it. Meanwhile Seathan is busy changing oil filters, servicing the engines and getting through his list of small fixes and repairs. We would have liked to install a windgenerator but it is impossible to get anything delivered here within a reasonable timeframe unless you pay an extortionate amount to FedEx or DHL for priority delivery. Even without those deliveries Panama has been a costly affair! The canal transit fees, cruising permit, tourist visas and harbour fees are all very expensive. But then again the alternative is to go all the way around Cape Horn and not really something I fancy (although I think Seathan wouldn’t mind 😉)

 

lots of big tankers anchored outside Colon

  

approaching Colon

  

Shelter Bay marina

 

Portobello, Panama

Christopher Colombus discovered the bay of Portobello in 1502 during his fourth voyage. It later became an important hub for transferring South and Central American gold and silver to Spain. Sir Francis Drake is also buried in the bay but his grave has not yet been discovered despite several British expeditions searching for it. Portobello is an interesting place, drenched in history and with lots of local colour. There are many boats anchored here, some waiting for a transit date for the Canal (Colon is less than 20NM away) and others just seem to hang out here for years. We reunited with several boats we met during the last few months and yesterday we had a big party onboard Rehua to celebrate Tyrii’s tenth birthday. He had a great day even though we had no presents (no shops). Home made birthday cards and some cash did the trick and he’s looking forward to going shopping in Colon or Panama city. We did however manage to buy ingredients for a chocolate cake in one of the Chinese mini-supermarkets. The party was a success and the kids spent most of the afternoon jumping off the boom into the water (again and again and again). Adults had fun too and Rehua turned into a true party boat. After enough rum punch we even managed to turn the cockpit and the aft deck into a dance floor!
Tomorrow we set sail for Colon to get organized for our canal transit. We don’t have a date yet but should find out more in the next few days.

Portobello town

Customs House, beautifully restored (1630)

entrance to the fort

  

ruins of the fort

 

downtown

 

the local bus

 

Tyrii is 10 and can drive the dinghy!

 

zooming across the bay

 
 

happy birthday Tyrii!

 

rehua partyboat


 

the castle of san fernando (1760) is made up of three levels: a lower and upper battery and a small fort at the top of the hill

  

canons…

…and more canons

can you find rehua?

view over the lower battery

Stunning San Blas

We arrived in San Blas last Saturday after a four-day crossing from Aruba. In the first 24 hours we clocked 220 miles (partly because of very favourable current). The last three days went a bit slower and we were glad to see land after having to stand off on the fourth night. The reefs around San Blas are notorious and last year alone 14 yachts ended up as shipwrecks. On top of that, the charts are not accurate and therefore landfall can only be made when the light is good. We safely made our approach in the morning and anchored next to Taff Tumas who had made it in just before sunset the day before (lucky people!). 
San Blas is exactly what one imagines paradise to be like. Little islands dotted all over the place with palm trees, white sandy beaches and turquoise water. The San Blas islands are home to the indigenous Kuna Indians, who have best preserved their culture and traditions out of all the tribes in the Americas. The Kunas are physically small people (rivaled in tribal shortness only by the pygmies!) and they don’t like to get their picture taken, as they believe it takes a bit of their spirit away. Kuna Yala (which means “San Blas” in Kuna) is a matrilineal society. The women control the money and the husbands move into the women’s family compound. The Kunas are friendly people. There are no pushy vendors like in the Caribbean and it feels much safer (and everything is a lot cheaper!). There are no other tourists here apart from other cruisers and some of them have been here for years. So how are we going to manage leaving here in a week or so? We want to get to Panama and keep making our way into the Pacific but on the other hand we could easily spend a few months exploring these beautiful islands. Our days fly past with schoolwork every morning, swimming and activities in the afternoon, fires on the beach in the evenings and even a camping trip for the dads and the kids one night (they built a hut out of palm tree leaves and sticks and slept in it one night).
Yesterday we sailed over to the nearest town (Nargana). People still live in huts here too but there is a hospital, a bank, some shops, a library, a school and a power plant (basically a very large generator that brings electricity to the entire village). The locals were very friendly and showed us where we could buy fruit, veg, bread and beer. We also managed to buy a SIM card for which we had to go to someone’s house. Wifi or internet cafes don’t exist here yet and life is still very simple. Today we went up the river Diablo with a Kuna guide to explore the jungle! We didn’t see any crocodiles (apparently they only appear at dusk) but it was stunning with plentiful wildlife and lush vegetation. We might have to do another trip at dusk to see those crocs!

afternoon swim

school

san blas


san blas

kuna boat

kuna hut

happy camper

campsite

Nargana town


exploring the river Diablo

captain Aeneas

sunset over san blas