|The Adventures of Lynn and Les on "Cottonwood"|
The next stop in the adventures of Cottonwood took us on to Balboa, Panama, and the transit of the Panama Canal. As we were running behind in our rough schedule we went directly to Balboa from Costa Rica and didnt stop at any other Panama stops. Maybe when we return. We keep saying that! We arrived at the Balboa Yacht Club (moorings and a small building on the warf) and readied for the Canal. Now I want to tell you that Mexico, and their paperwork Cha-Cha was a real pain. Every town had a different procedure. Port Captain then Migracion, then the bank, then the Port Captain, then the bank, then the Port Captain, etc. But many times it changed and you had to go to Migracion first, etc. etc. We had to look at it as just another adventure. But it was nothing compared to the running around you have to do checking in here combined with procedures preparing for the Panama Canal. The agents that do it for you were very difficult to contact. All the numbers and email addresses we had did not get answered and they were expensive at $5-700 in addition to Canal fees.
So we decided to save some money and use one of the recommended local Taxi drivers to show us the ropes. Believe me we could not have done it without him. Three days and many, many different Oficinas later, (I got so confused I didnt know which office we were at) we finally were told that we were cleared to go through, and we just have to wait to be notified of our schedule. Total cost, $80 for rented lines, and $200 for the taxi driver, plus the $600 for the canal. We originally had asked for line handlers at an additional $60 each plus taxi ride back, but found out many cruisers wanted the experience of going through the canal. So we invited 3 men from sailboats in the harbor to join us, plus one of the wives came along, and Howard made our fourth line handler. We were then given a 7:30 start time the next morning! It can sometimes be days or weeks waiting, so we felt very lucky. Actually, the cost of the taxi driver included him carting us around town for 4 days as well. We all enjoyed Balboa from the very poor area to the very upscale banking district. A very interesting area with lots of history related to the Canal. There were mixed emotions about the US giving control of the Canal back to Panama. In general, the people associated in some way with the Canal thought it was much better with the US in control. The rest of the people said it is OK that Panama is now in control. For the most part, the US kept everything more well kept and paid people a lot more.
The pilot arrived on time and we immediately started for the Canal. When we arrived we waited for a large container ship to go through, then we went in afterward along with two tug boats. One lock we went center lock, which means by yourself with four lines to the sides holding you in position. The gates opened and we then started through the Mira Flores set of locks. The second lock we tied up to one of the Tugs and the third, with a small sailboat, Star of the Sea, the one that we had cruised down the coast with, and they tied up (rafted) along side of us. It was a truly great boating experience. They are very efficient at the Canal. Our lines handlers took a little time getting used to holding the boats in the center as the water went down. And it does take a little muscle on a boat our size, 30 tons. The only mishap in the whole experience, a warning to those who might go through in their own boat, was in getting instructions from our pilot. The pilot for boats under 65 feet, by the way, is actually a pilot in training. With the sail boat still tied to us, we were to use the engines on our boat to move both boats from the first lock to the second. Well, when the gates open, there is a surge and current that makes maneuvering difficult. I was trying to take direction from a pilot in training whom I realized later, had no idea how to maneuver this particular set of boats. In addition, he kept switching his commands from Starboard engine, to Starboard. For those of you who know about twin engines, these have the opposite effect on the boat! Finding that both boats were drifting toward the lock wall, the pilot then grabs the power controls (he is NOT supposed to do that!) and pulls them back, which on our boat doesnt reverse the engines, it reduces power to the engines and leaves us without control. As I had just put them in reverse to stop us, I had to knock his hands away, put the power back up and just pull the boats off the wall in time. I then had a short discussion with him telling him to, just tell me where you want the boat to be, I will do the rest! All went well after that and we thoroughly enjoyed the trip through.
We then cruised across Gatun Lake headed for the Gatun set of locks on the Carribean side. For this set, we went center lock all the way. Very interesting to say the least when you look behind you and in the same lock a HUGE tanker moves in and veeery slowly stops just before crushing you to the lock doors. All in all, everyone had a great time and a great experience. We came out of the Gatun locks and anchored in the flats at Colon, where we dropped anchor and the pilot was taken off. We then went ashore to take our lines and line handlers to their taxi. Because it was dark and the town was not recommended for any night excursions, we stayed aboard and left the next day for Bocas del Toro, Panama.
time, Bocas del Toro, Panama, Isla San
Andres, Columbia, Roatan, Honduras, and Isla Mujeres, Mexico!
~ Trip Pics ~
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