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