Sharon’s Blog 8/9/14 Las Perlas…and Beyond
We stayed at the Balboa Yacht Club just
long enough for the euphoria to subside and to deal with the mundane like buying diesel and getting laundry done.
Although, I must say it was nice to eat dinner at a T. G. I. Fridays for the familiar.
I was going to use one word to describe Las Perlas, the Pearl Islands, it wouldn’t be pearls, it would be whales.
We hit the Islands at the peak of the time for the humpbacks. Our first two stops, La Contadora
and Mogo Mogo came with crystal blue water and whales in the anchorage. Our third stop, Isla San Jose will
be remembered as one of the most rolly anchorages we have ever had. The Captain was less than happy. After
only one night there, we decided to clock some miles and did an overnight passage to Isla Cebaco. Crossing
the Gulf of Panama was like driving though Sea World. We have never seen this many whales and dolphins.
One whale breeched 5 times in a row! Seeing the marine life never loses its excitement for us.
Although with this many whales out there, we were relieved they kept a little distance between us.
is nothing that will wake you up from an overnight any faster than seeing a panga full of men with machine guns quickly coming
your way. As they got nearer we could see they were wearing life jackets so we knew they had to be military,
Naval de Panama, in this case. This was only the second time we have been boarded except when checking
in or out of a country. We were more than a little apprehensive as our paperwork was not quite in order.
On the advice of our agent, we had checked out of Panama in Panama City. He assured us it was okay
to stop in these islands even though the rules require departure from Panama within 72 hours. Well, he
was right or the very nice official who came aboard did not catch it or chose to ignore it. He was very
professional, spoke almost no English and was most concerned that we did not have any stowaways. He directed
us to a tienda where we could buy cerveza and sped away.
Lured by the promise
of a totally flat anchorage with excellent holding, we decided to stop in Bahia de Honda. The promise about
the anchorage was correct, but it was also one of the most beautiful places we have seen in Panama. It
was like being on a lake surrounded by some surprisingly large mountains. The tiny pueblo on the island
was very remote and isolated. The village was very poor, but the people were friendly. Although,
we aren’t sure this very old woman who was skipping around us making guttural sounds and laughing wasn’t putting
a hex on us. We had a steady stream of visitors rowing out to Georgia to sell us fruit, eggs and to ask
for fish hooks and batteries. Fish hooks we could spare but we too are out of batteries.
are getting close to Costa Rica and will be glad to be back in communication range. We have not had internet
or cell phone since leaving Panama City, relying only on the ham radio and our expensive Sat phone. It
is time to pull out a new courtesy flag.
|Panama Navy after boarding
|Sharon going for groceries
|Home where we bought bread
|Every country has its devils
Kim’s Blog 7/28/14: Panama Canal transit
I had no interest in transiting the
canal until I read, Path Between the Seas by David McCullough. Neither Sharon nor I could
put this 700 page book down once we started. We were well versed in the history of the canal before we
started. However, even without this preparation, I would have found the canal the single most fascinating trip in our journeys.
line handlers were on Georgia J by 5:00 pm, a two hour delay from the time given to us the prior day. Our
agent provided Noberto and Rick, both professional line handlers with many transits under their belt. We
also hired Dylan, a 17 year Canadian with 60+ transits and excellent Spanish skills. Finally, Angel, a
Spanish biologist, joined us as a volunteer for his first passage. After we anchored, Sharon served
an excellent dinner while we waited for our Canal Authority Advisor. The advisor, Roy, arrived by boat
after dark and we learned that there would be another hour delay. While we waited, Sharon feed Roy his
dinner. Finally, it was time to pull up the anchor and head for Gatun Locks. The arrival
timing is precisely coordinated so that we would enter the locks just behind a large cargo ship. Unfortunately,
our anchor didn’t cooperate. The chain kept twisting bringing the anchor to the deck upside down.
After many ties, Dylan and I got it on board covering us with sticky Panama mud. We were now 15
Georgia was running fast and hot as we approached Gatun
Lock. At night, the locks look pretty spooky- big ships, bright lights and lots of industrial noise.
However, Roy’s instructions were incredibly precise- slow to 1.5 knots, turn a bit port, or go to neutral.
Every instruction was accompanied by reassurance that we were doing a great job. The trick
was to be just outside the locks when the ship went in, but to avoid the worst of the currents and prop wash.
When we almost there, two guys appeared on each side and monkey fists started flying. A monkey fist
is a rubber ball attached to small line which is thrown at the boat. Our line handlers grabbed the
small line with the monkey fist and tied it to the giant lines we brought with us. The guys on shore then
walk with us (dragging lines in the water) into the locks. We were not tied to another boat, so we needed
all four line handlers. The shore guys pull our big lines to the top of the lock where they are secured.
The giant doors that were installed 100 years ago then close and the water begins to rise. The mixing
of salt and fresh water creates lots of turbulence while our line handlers pull the slack and keep Georgia J from turning
sideways in the lock. It is an odd sight to see our depth finder increasing 30+ feet in eight minutes.
When the lock is full, the giant ship powers up putting lots of pressure on our lines.
untying the monkey fist lines, the guys on shore walk forward to the second and third Gatun lock where the process is repeated
twice more. Our total elevation gain was 85 feet. After giving the ship a little time
to exit, we were in Lake Gatun’s fresh water heading for our night time mooring buoy. The ship’s
buoy was massive. In fact, when we approached it Rick just leaped on the buoy and tied up Georgia J with
lots of fenders for protection.
By the time we had arrived at the buoy at 12:25
am, we had traded stories about family, heard first- hand accounts of the American invasion to depose Manual Noriega, and
seen pictures big alligators removed from the locks. We liked Roy so much that Sharon was trying to fix
him up with her sister when the Canal Boat arrived to take him away. After a couple of beers for the crew,
we were down for the night. Angel rigged a hammock on the bow; Noberto slept in the cockpit and the rest
of us slept inside. Lake Gatun is beautiful at night.
Morning came quickly as the alarm
went off at 5:30 am. Our new advisor, Moises arrived at 7:30 am and we were headed across the lake, 38
mile trip. Along the way, Angel pointed out bird species. We saw an alligator and a
giant shovel working at the famous contractor’s hill- the most difficult area for the canal builders. Of
course, many giant ships passed us as Moises advised to stay as close as possible to the red buoys marking the channel. We
also passed the prison where Manual Noriega now lives.
The first down locking is at the Pedro Miguel lock.
Now we go in front of a big ship, not behind. Again, the timing was precise. We
could not enter too soon since the suction of giant intake holes would pull Georgia into the wall. Going
too slow is also a problem with a massive ship approaching our stern. Again the monkey fists were thrown,
but this time our line handlers let the line out when the lock drains like a big bathtub.
the one mile Miraflores Lake and maneuvered slowing waiting for the Miraflores locks to become available.
More monkey fists fly and we are almost done.
Our only significant problem
occurred in the Miraflores Lock. The guys on our port side of the locks were nowhere to be seen when it
was time to move from the first lock to the second lock. Our land handlers were whistling for them and
Moises was on the radio, furious that they were not there to release us. The problem is that a big ship
displaces massive amounts of water pushing Georgia J through the lock like a spitball from a straw. When
moving, we needed to stay under 3 knots so the guys on shore walking with lines can keep up. With current
pushing us forward, I needed to go into reverse to slow down. Each time I shifted to reverse, the boat
wanted to turn sideways in the lock. This required me to shift into forward gear, apply lots of power,
turn the bow and then go back into reverse before gaining more speed. I was sweating at the end of the
lock as the lines were quickly secured to stop us from ramming the big black doors. Noberto and Rick did
a masterful job in bringing the boat to stop as I applied full power in reverse. All of this occurred with
Angel’s girl friend (along with hundreds of others) viewing us from the visitor’s center not to mention
the internet webcams.
When the last lock door opened, we shot out of the locks
at 8 knots and were officially in the Pacific Ocean.
Everyone involved- our crew, advisors
and line handlers did a masterful job. However, Sharon worked hardest, producing gourmet meals in a shifting
time schedule while taking pictures and dodging monkey fists. Everyone’s effort (and especially hers)
have been duly noted in the Captain’s big book of important stuff.
J, moored at Balboa Yacht Club, Panama City, Panama
|Big balls are required to transit the Panama Canal
|Big doors of Gatun Locks close behind us
|Snuggling up to the Ocean Prince
|On Lake Gatun
|Releasing the lines
|View from our stern- Miraflores Locks
|Miraflores Locks (photo credit: Martha)
|Moving to the last Miraflores Lock
Measurement done 7/22/14
We got an email at 7:30 am instructing us to head to
an anchorage 3 miles away to meet the admeasurer. We took down the sun covers and were anchored
at 9:10 am. Before long a boat approached dropping off a very nice official. The
first measurement showed us slightly over 50'. On the second try we were 49.87 feet. The 1.56 inch
difference saved us $500 in canal fees. The only problem was that we were informed that sandwiches are
not acceptable for the Canal Advisor since a full meal is required. After completing some paper work, the admeasurer was picked
up and we headed back to the marina.
George J, back in Shelter Bay
|Meeting the Canal Authorities
|Admeasurer at work
Kim’s Blog 7/20/14: Panama Canal process
We are nervously anticipating
our transit from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Here is an abbreviated description of the process.
Measurement and inspection- expected tomorrow 7/22
We anchor outside Colon
to meet the Canal Authority Admeasurer. We must go to the measurer, not vice versa. If
you don’t like the rules, feel free to go around South America. We have removed our dinghy and solar
panels hoping that Georgia J will measure under 50 feet which saves $500 in fees.
Day 1 of the transit
current wait for transit is about 3 days after measurement. We will have 4 line handlers on the boat for
the transit who will meet us in the marina in the morning. After they are on board, we again go to Colon
to anchor and wait for the Canal Authority advisor. When the advisor arrives, we will head a couple of
miles to the Gatun locks and await instructions. We expect to enter the locks in the late afternoon.
We may be tied to another yacht, a tug or in the lock by ourselves. There are three Gatun locks.
This is the uphill portion (85’) of the trip. After we transit the locks, we will tie to mooring
buoy on Gatun Lake for the night. The advisor is picked up by another boat and Sharon cooks dinner for
the remaining 6 people on board.
Day 2 of the transit
A new advisor shows up
around 6:00 am on Gatun Lake. We then proceed across lake dodging ships while Sharon makes breakfast
for 7 people. At mid-day we should reach the Pedro Miguel locks and then the Miraflores locks where
we will drop the Pacific level. By mid-afternoon, we will drop off our advisor, line handlers, giant fenders
and 150’ lines at the Balboa Yacht Club. We hope to stay at the Balboa Yacht Club for a few
days if there is space available.
Note that our normal tracker will not be operational. To
track our progress, click on the following link. This website shows all traffic in the canal including
It you happen to be surfing while we go through the locks, you might see us on the Panama Canal webcam at:
For more info on the Panama Canal, see http://www.panlinehandler.com
We are nervous about the swirling currents in the locks, feeding 6-7 people and bumping big ships,
but are eager to go.
S/V Georgia J, moored at Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
Sharon’s Blog 7/19/14 Back from North Carolina
We are back in Panama after a three week trip
to North Carolina to see our family. This is the longest visit we have had in many years.
Erica and the boys were there for almost the entire time. Connor and Lucas, now ages 6 and 3, are
adorable, lively, and shall we say high –spirited. Grandma and Popeye, as well as the boys, all survived
4 days solo while Erica went to New York for a friend’s wedding. The longer stay
gave us some real quality time with my parents and our siblings. We owe a special thank you to our nephew
and niece, Justin and Stephanie, who not only hosted us but the entire family many times. They have
a fabulous home with a giant play room and a well-stocked back yard. The children were all shocked that
Grandma not only could but would jump on the trampoline! It is particularly rewarding for our grandsons
to do the same things we did and Erica did as children. Funny, some of the tourist attractions weren’t
as thrilling to Erica this time. A special treat was seeing our nephew and niece, Alan
and Sara, and meeting our newest family member, Hudson. What a charmer he is. In addition
to family time, I had a “must do” day with my dear friend, Rhonda, and we even spent a wonderful evening with
our long-time friends, the Keeners, who we had not seen for many years. All in all, it was a wonderful
family event. We will particularly cherish one evening with my parents. We took them
to dinner at the new restaurant in the old West Jefferson Hotel building. My parents spent their wedding
night there over 67 years ago, as well as an anniversary night one year later. My Dad even remembered their
room number, 15, on both visits. The proprietors of the restaurant as well as all of the diners enjoyed
having Momma and Daddy there again.
We arrived back in Panama one week ago, with a few extra pounds from my
Mom’s Southern cooking. We immediately yearned for the cooler weather of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Our focus now is to get ready to transit the Panama Canal. Kim has been busily doing all of the
boat projects with the parts we carried back with us. I have started my major provisioning job getting
ready for a group of line handlers on board to feed as well as our being at anchor for a couple of weeks. We
have been talking about his for a while now it is time to get it done!
Georgia J, moored at Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
|Erica and the boys
|Lucas plots his next caper
|On the way to a fire
6/6/14- Panama Update
Georgia J has been resting
in Shelter Bay Marina in Panama for just over two weeks. The marina, swimming pool, restaurant and staff
are very nice. However, we are surrounded by jungle and Colon is too dangerous to visit unless absolutely
necessary. Fortunately, we have lots of stainless to polish and many boat projects to tackle.
We did just return from a three day trip to Panama City. A nice
couple from the “Inflatable Doctor” picked us up in their truck along with our very sad looking dinghy, Baby J.
We are looking forward to receiving a shiny, non-leaking Baby J in a few weeks.
were on a mission for air conditioner motors, diesel injectors, and lots of boat stuff which is unavailable in Colon.
We hired Roger, a guy who helps cruisers find stuff, to drive us around. After a thorough
tour of the city’s motor repair workshops, we spent a couple of days sightseeing. In addition
to finding boat stuff, Roger turned out to be a great tour guide and nice guy.
After touring historic areas and canal locks, we finished our trip to Panama City with in great Lebanese
restaurant (complete with belly dancers) and returned to Colon on the historic Panama Canal Railroad.
We will be in Shelter Bay for a couple of more weeks before flying to North Carolina.
We will be working hard to be ready to transit the canal when we return in July.
s/v Georgia J- very hot in Shelter Bay, Panama
|A few US military buildings at Shelter Bay have been restored
|But most have not
|Jungle Walk by Shelter Bay
|In the jungle
|Miraflores Locks- Panama City
|Touring Panama City with Roger