|Zero Degrees South|
|Zero Degrees North|
|Land Ahoy, yippee|
|Zero Degrees South|
|Zero Degrees North|
|Land Ahoy, yippee|
|Night time Visitors, Interesting Boat Registered in Guadeloupe|
|this flying fish didn't manage to escape, but it tried hard!!|
|motoring in glassy seas|
|skippers chatting to the passing birds|
30 May – 11 June: Caribbean Colon to Pacific Panama City ~ 8 55N 79 31W
Because we had already spent a hurricane season in Panama 2012, our sole purpose for visiting this time was to fill fuel tanks, propane cylinders, buy as much food as we could store, organise our canal transit, transit the famous Panama Canal and then pop out into the Pacific!!
You are permitted to enter for 72 hours without getting a cruising permit (USD200) or visas (USD100 each), but even with engaging the services of an agent (about another USD400) it would have been impossible to achieve everything within this time frame, and they know that.
So we decided to do all the transit paperwork without an agent which was relatively straightforward, we emailed forms, made phone calls, made an appointment with the measurer and collected several official documents and eventually paid over our money.
But we had to spend an afternoon in Colon doing the rounds of officialdom to check in. First stop was the Harbour Master who took 1 & 1/2 hours to issue a receipt for our cruising permit to take to Immigration. A taxi ride in torrential rain then took us to Immigration who only took just over an hour to issue the two visas (only 3 months validity!!), can you believe they even wanted to know our parents names. Just bear in mind here if you fly in you get 6 months, its free and you don’t even fill out a form!
Then back, still in the pouring rain, to the Harbour Master who acted like he had never seen us before and had not issued the cruising permit, and yes, we were the only ones there! So across to Citibank to lighten our wallet of USD1875 and pay for our canal crossing, at least that was quick but you must pay in cash and it includes a deposit in case we damage something ~ what, like a container ship or the inside of a lock maybe! Then back again for another half hour wait for the cruising permit. Patience and politeness are certainly virtues, but ours were wearing very thin. And then you all wonder what we do all day.
Back in April before we left St Maarten I started provisioning, there were all those yummy French goodies to tuck away. In the British and US Virgin Islands I filled trolley after trolley with things I knew I couldn’t get in Panama or were cheaper there but that was 6 weeks ago and we have nibbled away at supplies. Now I am provisioning for 6 months, good grief that's a lot of food and dry goods. So for 4 mornings in a row I caught the marina courtesy bus to the supermarket, and daily I came back with bags and bags of “necessities”. On those 4 afternoons I spent my time recording it all and stowing it all away.
Are We Ready? ~ Yes We Are!
The freezer will not fit even an ice cube, the lockers are bulging. Skipper has the fuel tanks completely topped up, the propane tanks have returned, are tyres (as fenders) and lines have arrived, we have employed the services of professional line handler Rick and have accepted an offer from lovely Dutch couple Ingrid and Ben off yacht Blabber to be our 2 additional line handlers. 3.30pm on June 10 2015 ~ the marina bill has been settled, electricity and water disconnected from mother earth, our helpers are aboard, the mooring lines are let go and Balvenie quietly exits the marina without incident in the drizzly rain. We motored across to “the Flats” to await our adviser and were happy to see Swiss yacht Kyory also waiting to transit. Follow the photos for our journey through...
Our next advisor arrived at 7am, but Kyory’s did not so we carried on without them presuming we would see them again at the locks, over 20 miles away on the other side of the lake. We were both scheduled to go into the locks with a huge car carrier which we could see well behind us in the far distance, however we made very good time across the lake and our advisor managed to get us hooked up with a large power tourist catamaran, Discovery
We motored away from the murky canal waters, the pilot boat came and collected our advisor. Have to say both our pilots Louis and Franklin were excellent, very professional and nice people to have onboard. What a contrast from the ghastly Egyptian pilots we had during our transit through the Suez Canal a few years ago. How rude, arrogant and thoroughly obnoxious they were. Anyway, we detached all our big black tyres and long lines and farewelled Rick who hopped into a water taxi. Ricks experience had been invaluable, he was always ahead of the game and was the reason why we had a trouble free transit.
Ben and Ingrid, who had donned their orange Dutch colours for the many friends back home watching on the webcam at the Miraflores locks, stayed onboard with us as we motored around to the La Brisa anchorage in Panama City and dropped our anchor in the Pacific for the first time since 2006, wow. It was great to have their company overnight to share our celebration in finally reaching our home ocean. Their enthusiasm from the moment we contacted them to join us was outstanding and made this stressful “adventure” fun. Thanks Ben and Ingrid, you were fabulous company and terrific linehandlers. Ah, and what happened to Frank on Kyory, well he finally popped up nearly 3 hours after us, we sure did well.
So now we will regroup and move Balvenie once again into passage mode. We have made contact again by our SSB Radio with our cruising friends who have been on this side for a while, most are already in the Marquesas. We are definitely amongst the last to leave and the big advantage with that is all our friends have so much new knowledge to share on where to go and what to do.
A weather window looks possible for a Monday departure from these shores, directly to the Galapagos Islands.
Our Long Voyage Home Will Soon Commence
17 – 30 May: Port Antonio, Jamaica to Colon, Panama ~ 09 22N 79 57W
Thankfully the very nasty weather that had been forecast got stalled below Jamaica and we had very light winds and just sprinkles of rain during our stay. This did mean however that we had to wait and wait for the weather further south to clear away before we could finally start our passage to Panama.
It was no hardship whiling away days in Port Antonio, it is a small non touristy town with a vibrant market area, several Jamaican famous “jerk chicken” stalls, some passable supermarkets, several churches and way too many banks. We filled the fridge with much needed fresh vegetables, last time was in the US Virgins a month ago so we had been using up tinned provisions earmarked for the Pacific, never mind – we got to eat!
We took our bikes ashore and went for a long ride making the most of the cooler cloudy weather/ We headed east along the coast, past a huge mansion build only 40 years ago but replicating a European castle, talk about look out of place ~ just what were they thinking?
On we cycled through small hamlets housing very humble abodes, past a gated community of upmarket expat or holiday houses set in large tropical grounds such a contrast to the neighbouring local homes, but providing much needed employment for gardeners, housekeepers etc.
Peddling on, next up was THE Blue Lagoon, yes the very one that a young Brooke Shields launched her movie career in a skimpy bikini many years ago. With grey skies reflecting into the lagoon there was not even a smidgen of blue to be seen, well, it just didn't look much like the lagoon I remembered from the movie.
A couple of k’s further on and we arrived at Frenchman’s Cove rumoured to be “the best beach in Jamaica” ~ We can not confirm this as an entrance fee of USD10 each was required, and quite frankly we see plenty of beaches for free so skipped this one and instead spent our money having a cold drink with Bob Marley and the bikini clad girls in a shacky little roadside bar.
Into the Blue Mountains
Another day we shared a hire car with our neighbours Rachael and Steve off El Giro. We took the coast road west this time, over the Rio Grande then turned up into the hills and slowly wound our way up into the cloud shrouded Blue Mountains and John Crow National Park, famous worldwide for its excellent coffee, and our mission was to drink some!
On and on we went, slowly dodging potholes big enough to live in, deeper and deeper into the jungle, higher and higher into the mountains ~ and then there was a sign! We made a sharp right turn up an even steeper and narrower road, distance not hinted at (didn’t want to put us off now did they), possibility of a u-turn very slim, the things we do for a coffee!!
We did the obligatory walk around the gardens, saw all the herbs, spices and fruit growing and of course the coffee. The vegetation was very lush and green following recent rains but the ground still dry and they were eagerly awaiting the wet season to cool things down and liven the plants up.
We drank freshly brewed Blue Mountains Coffee out of calabash cups (type of fruit that grows on trees that the shells are used for to make bowls, cutlery etc) and enjoyed the mountain air, jungle noises and spectacular scenery.
But Where To Now?
After coffee we were faced with a dilemma, we had planned to continue into the mountains high up to Irish Town for lunch then drop down the other side, skirting Kingston and hooking into the coast road back to Port Antonio, thereby doing a loop of North Eastern Jamaica. I
t had all looked feasible on the map but as you all know our original plans often don’t come to fruition and when we were told the road deteriorated even more as we got higher and it would be 3 – 4 hours just to get to Irish Town, and we couldn’t skirt Kingston we would have to drive right through it. So we decided it would be sensible to turn around and head back down to sea level.
Back on the coast road we went to Boston Bay renowned for its extra spicy jerk chicken and pork, cooked over hot coals on roadside bar-b-que pits. We found a spot with a shady terrace and good view and relaxed into a very long late lazy lunch not such a bad alternative!
Jammin’ Away into the Dark
A weather window was immerging, it wasn’t going to be perfect as it looked like we would have to motor at the end (better than being beaten up!) but it was the best we could hope for and there was a tropical wave developing that we wanted to avoid.
So with most of the boats readying themselves for an impending departure we decided to have a Jammin’ Happy Hour in the Marina Bar, all musicians, singers and onlookers welcome. We had a good turn out and fun evening, joined by local Danny who was extremely hard to see in the dark as you can tell from the photo!
Heading South Till the Sea Runs Out
We motored out of Port Antonio at 6.15am on the 26th May, surf was breaking on each side of channel, there was a big swell, very confused seas and no wind, yuk! The first 5 hours really were pretty horrible until we cleared the eastern coast of Jamaica then we picked up a light breeze, raised sails, turned off the engine and finally pointed south west.
Eventually the sea state settled and we had a comfortable sail with winds around 15 knots or less just aft of the beam, Balvenies (and Admirals) favourite point of sail. We made a couple of sail changes enroute and eventually were pointing dead down wind so deployed both our poles and floated off downwind towards the Panama Canal.
As we closed on the Central American coast the winds became fickle, the engine came on and off as the squalls came and went and the shipping steadily increased. We wove our way through the myriad of ships at anchor awaiting their turn to transit the canal, called Port Control for permission to enter through the harbour breakwater, then thought it prudent to go behind a huge container ship that was bearing down on us at speed.
We called Shelter Bay Marina and were allocated a berth, finally returning after our first arrival here 3 years ago and that should be the end of this chapter but we decided to arrive in spectacular style. The berth we were allocated had just a little too much of a sharp turn for us (envy those yachts with bow thrusters big time!), so skipper reversed to widen the angle a little but there was an underwater mooring line lurking where it shouldn’t have been and our propeller found it, it then got wrapped extremely tightly around the shaft and stalled the engine. Then to keep out of harms way until the marina dinghy arrived to tow us, Balvenie slowly floated into the shallows and ran herself aground into the mud!! Way too much entertainment after 4 nights at sea but at least we never hit any thing.
And That Concludes Our Adventures of the Caribbean After 3 1/2 Years