Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Thoughts on the first leg of our journey

Tomorrow we are due to go through the Panama Canal, so this seems a good time to reflect on the journey so far.  We have come 1525 nautical miles since Antigua, with 15 friends and one stowaway, without arguments and with immense pleasure in their company and our surroundings.  If I (Nicky) had to pick a favourite place, it might be Klein Curacao after the tourist boats had departed and we had the island pretty much to ourselves (we had to share it with a very excitable dog).

San Blas
Panama has been a mixed bag.  Although the San Blas islands were stunning, once you went ashore it was distressing how much plastic had been washed up and how little effort was being made to clear it away – some financial incentive is needed, I suspect. Cartagena is another strong contender for favourite place. I wish I could communicate better in Spanish, not just to be able to order meals or ask the way, but to hold proper conversations with locals. 

At Villa Tavida, the wonderful, isolated lodge inland from Penonome where we spent two days last weekend, lovely Maria Beatrix told us about the petroglyphs and gave us an insight into local life, while Julio took us on a great hike up to the ridge, where we could see the watershed – one side, the rivers run to the Atlantic, while the other side they end up in the Pacific Ocean.  We swam in the pool under the waterfall, visible and audible at all times from the hotel, and had a hot mud massage, which left our skin fantastically soft.  Driving to Tavida was a challenge.  We had been warned, but it was still extraordinary to witness drivers doing U turns on a dual
Villa Tavida

We are looking forward to seeing Panama City on the Pacific side; Colon, the nearest city to Shelter Bay marina where we’ve spent the past ten days, is horrible.  We have spent more time in Colon than we’d have chosen to, and definitely more time in a Panamanian provincial hospital, because Charlie, who was our skipper on Calliope in summer 2016 and brought her across the Atlantic, before he moved onto Miss Tiggy, another Oyster 575, has been critically ill there, with blood clots in his leg and lung.  Don’t take out medical travel insurance with Bishops Skinner – they have been awful!  We hope that following his operation yesterday, he will make a speedy recovery. 

Shelter Bay marina is very friendly – there’s yoga in the mornings, aqua aerobics in the afternoons and social activities galore.  Oyster organised a great party at Fort Lorenzo, just up the road, where Spanish conquistadores stored gold and silver before it was shipped to Europe.  There wasn’t room for the silver inside the fort, so apparently it lay in heaps outside.  Charles mended a davit cable and, mindful of an incident in Greece, was very careful not to drop the weight into the water.  However, a spanner went overboard and Charles dived in the dark marina water to find it.

From small tasks do bigger tasks grow

We will go through the Canal over the course of two days – the timing is out of our hands, as each boat is assigned a Transit Advisor.  We will probably be rafted up as a ‘nest’ of three yachts, but even so, we will be tiny compared to the huge container and cruise ships which take up a whole lock on their own.  Look out for us on the Panama Canal webcam:  - though when we tried recently, one of the cameras was out of action. On Thursday we’ll go up 26 metres in three locks, and that night we’ll moor in Gatun Lake.  We can’t drop our anchor, as we’re told it might get caught in the branches of the trees which were submerged when the Chagres River was dammed to create the lake.  Neither can we swim – there are apparently lots of crocodiles.  Then on Friday, we’ll motor the length of the lake, before going down the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks and under the Bridge of the Americas, out into the Pacific!  We have some new acquaintances on board to help with the transit, Sue, Spiro and Neil, but from there on, Charles and I are on our own to the Galapagos, about 1,000 miles, which I’m really looking forward to, though I’m a bit apprehensive about the night watches.  In Panama City we will do major provisioning as there’s not much shopping between there and Tahiti, two months’ sailing away.  Those who know my love of lists won’t be surprised that I’ve been having fun, working out food and other requirements for 60 days.
Above Villa Tavida

I think of home a lot.  There are lots of items aboard which remind me of people – the Cretan lemon squeezer from my parents, the bread bag from Richard and Ishbel, the chess set Maarten and Hein brought, Lucky the Pakeman teddy with his lifejacket, even (thank you Caroline) the dustbin bags which fit our odd-shaped bin so perfectly.  When I wake up in the middle of the night and our natural air conditioning (aka the wind) is blowing too strongly for me to get back to sleep, I miss Switzerland, my parents, log fires and skiing.  It’s hard to realise the routines at home go on without us; I wish I could pop back for Book Club and Orangetheory Gym, and to see Pakeman children and staff.  Most of all, I miss our children and hope they won’t mind when I smother them in hugs when they join us – Alex and Pippa in Galapagos in 24 days (yes, I’m counting!) and Michael in July in Tahiti.  It’s good to hear that daffodils and blossom are out in England.  Keep the news coming!

Charles: in terms of sailing we have done 1525 on the log since Antigua, but we have had strong current behind us from Grenada to Cartagena, so total miles higher.  We have used 55 engine hours and 45 on the generator, so the winds have been kind and favourable!  Nothing major has gone wrong, and we have done maintenance jobs here in Shelter Bay, oil changes and general checks.  We have started up the freezer and Nicky is filling it with meals for the Pacific.  The coast of Colombia was kind to us for the three night passage we sailed with Nick and Alexia rarely getting over 25 knots.  From Cartagena to San Blas we did have 33 knots and 25-30 for about 7 hours with Ben, Sara and Annemie.  Calliope coped with it all very well, and the autopilot was a great help!

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