Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Return to Panama

Friday 20th April 2007


We left the Perlas Islands early and, with no wind, we motored the whole way back to Balboa (Panama). I spent most of the time replacing one of the UV damaged straps on our sprayhood, otherwise the trip was uneventful and we arrived in the anchorage at about 3:30pm.

We met up again with Cameron (Aussie), Sharon (Scot) and Lewis (Son) on their 40 year old GRP boat called Timella for a few drinks later.

Saturday 21st April 2007

The crew of Timella gave us a lift to shore this morning and came with us on our dinghy hunt. The chandlery adjacent to the anchorage was the first stop and they said that they could get a dinghy the next day. Next stop was a Suzuki dealer that also sold Suzuki outboard engines. They were closed but the tradesman’s entrance was still unlocked – Cameron blustered his way in and we were invited inside. Cameron immediately started some hard bargaining and brought the price down by a couple of hundred dollars until they were eventually haggling about 20 dollars. My view was that the “Caribe” dinghies were too heavy and Fliss would have difficulty when we came to carry it (with engine) up the beach. Anyway, the only available one was hanging in the roof and the person who could lower it had knocked-off for the day.

Evening was spent with the Timella crowd onboard Naz. Cameron wants to cruise the first part of the Pacific with company and we agreed to sail with them. Unfortunately, they have a host of jobs to complete on Timella but we agreed and gave a personal deadline of one week. So, the pressure is off the dinghy hunt for the moment.

Sunday 22nd April 2007

The lift ashore came courtesy of Timella again and Cameron suggested that we had breakfast a superb greasy spoon that he had found, conveniently located near a chandlery. He described the picture of bacon, eggs, tomatoes, fried bread, sausages and all the trimmings and guaranteed that it would all be swimming in luscious quantities of fat. When we arrived, the self-serve counter was filled with curries and pastries and cakes – we were all devastated – what sort of fare is that for 9:30am???? The curry was actually quite good but a bit odd for the first meal of the day.

The chandlery could only offer a fresh-water fishing dinghy and rest of the afternoon was spent on a fruitless search for other dinghy outlets and second-hand shops.

Monday 23rd April 2007

Help! The dinghy supplier by the anchorage sells Zodiac dinghies that are much more expensive than the ones at Suzuki but are lighter, faster and stow more easily. A phone call to trusty father confirms that they are a good make and you can’t really go wrong with them. So, mind made up I go to order one.

The chap in the shop rang head office and said that I could pay $200 extra to have it delivered from Colon (50 miles away) to which I replied that I could hire a taxi and collect for $45. He spent another 20 minutes on the phone and said that it would actually only be ready by Thursday and could be delivered free of charge. I asked whether he could not get it sooner and, after another half an hour on the phone, he said that it would now not be delivered until Saturday because it was stuck in customs??!?!?

Cameron does odd boat jobs around the anchorage and is also a qualified rigger. His current job is to get a poor SSB installation on another yacht working. The other yacht had 2 SSB's and he took the older one out yesterday - it is now sitting on my chart table ready for installation. In return, I am going out to source a water foot-pump for him and install it as well as help with a problem with his boom and rudder.


I had a lovely day shopping with my dear friend Sharon. We caught the local bus into town and at 25 cents (12.5 pence) it’s well worth doing. It was great browsing around the shops with someone who wants to do it! Pete is very tolerant and when I ask him if he likes it he just says “yes, just buy the damn thing”. Clothes’s shopping is fantastic as everything is so cheap, I saved so much money!! I bought three summer/casual dresses, bikini, 5 t-shirts, new purse, super glue and the bill came to £20.

Images of Panama

Tuesday 24th April 2007


I purchased the new water-pump and went over to Timella to fit it. Of course, the new pump is a different shape and size to the old one and the foot-operated lever refused to line-up with the original hole in the bulkhead. The only thing for it was to build a shelf to support the pump and cut another hole. The whole of the afternoon was spent making a shelf of contorted design and dimensions of sufficient strength to support Cameron’s bulk just in case he pumps too hard (he is over 6 feet tall and built to match).


As the deadline for departure to the Galapagos Islands is scheduled for Sat/Sunday Sharon and I headed off to re-provision Timella, I was really grateful that Pete and I had stuck to our plan of not dipping into our tinned supplies, as I really didn’t need to get much, apart from rum. According to the Cruisers Network a bottle of rum in the South Pacific Islands will set you back $50 a bottle, cigarettes are also very expensive at $10 a packet (UK prices) so I stocked up, here its $4 dollars for 200. Rolling tobacco is very difficult to find in Panama but after asking around we found one place that sold it, so Pete’s stocked up.

Downtown Panama is amazing, very cosmopolitan with high and impressive skyscrapers, the whole area looks very affluent. This is where the rich Panamanians shop! But Sharon and I preferred the old town as not only did it suit our purses but it is steeped with old Spanish style houses with impressive iron lattice work balconies and pretty window baskets. You can wander safely through little back streets and come across a church or a lovely little square, it really is a great place to explore.

Wednesday 25th April 2007

At 08:00, the yachties all tune in to channel 69 on the VHF for a chat about who has arrived, who is leaving, any assistance (ie: where can I find a dentist? Has anyone got an angle-grinder I can borrow etc), and spare kit (trash) for sale. First on the agenda this morning was Cameron. He had woken up to find that his dinghy had been stolen at some point the previous night along with the outboard engine. This is devastating as the dinghy is the workhorse of any anchorage, getting ashore, ferrying provisions etc. The hardest part is that he is strapped for cash and cannot really afford to buy even a half-decent second-hand one.

The irony of it is that it must have been the worst dinghy in the anchorage since the transom was strapped in with a bit of rope meaning that you were always knee-deep in water. The propeller on the engine was not fully attached to the drive-shaft and the starter cord recoil was missing so that the casing had to be removed before starting with a piece of spare rope wound around the top of the flywheel and pulled hard.

More shelf-fitting today but the job can’t be completed because I need Cameron’s thumbs-up for cutting the new hole. He is up the mast of a boat nearby, diagnosing some serious faults. He was a rigger in a past life and charges his services out at up to $50 per hour. Hang-on, why am I doing work on his boat? Oh yes…….the free SSB unit.

Talking of dentists……my false front tooth has come loose again, so I made an appointment to get it fixed.

In the evening, I spent an hour getting his boom-end away from the boom. It had been glued on with chemical metal but was not too tricky to extricate. Then, food and drinkies on Timella.

More Images of Panama

Thusday 26th April 2007

I went to the dentist, had an x-ray plus an examination and the conclusion was that the root was breaking up – same conclusion that the dentist in Antigua had given. The root could cause me problems across the Pacific and needed to come out, so the dentist took imprints of my teeth and told me to come back at 3:00pm to have it removed and have a temporary bridge fitted (it should last about a year).

Back to the dentist and an hour and a half later I had a new bridge. Ok, it didn’t fit very well and had all sorts of bits poking out inside my mouth but the dentist told me to return the next day and tell her how it felt once the anaesthetic had worn off.

Fliss and I are now compiling our guide to “Dentists of the World”, this one is not rating well.

Soup for dinner tonight.

Friday 27th April 2007

This morning I finally get around to fitting the water pump on Timella and then making a teak facia to tidy up the old hole and screws.

In the afternoon, Fliss and I went back to the dentist and, after a good deal of grinding and shaping, it feels much better. However, the inside shape of my teeth has changed so much that it has left me with a lisp. I am hoping that I will get uthed to it thoon tho that I can thpeak properly again. The dentist thtill getth the thumbth-down.

The dinghy is here! We return to the chandlery carry it to the dock, pump it up, and we are mobile again! With an inflatable keel, it moves twice as fast as the old dinghy using half the fuel and has the added bonus of not soaking us with saltwater spray. We give it the thumbs-up and I attach a heavy wire strop and padlock to it.

We have offered Timella the use of our old dinghy for the passage across the Pacific. Cameron did not look too enthusiastic since it is over 20 years old and has a hole that is increasingly hissing air. We have spoken to a local who has given us the location of professional repairers, so we will go there tomorrow.


I was due to go with Sharon to get their Zarpe this morning but she wasn’t feeling very well. Bad timing as at 12pm today Timella gets lifted out, last thing you want when your not well.

I was grateful for time on the boat as Nadezhda had become slightly neglected as Pete and I were concentrating our efforts on getting Timella ready for the off. It was good to get Nadezhda ship-shape again.

Last minute panic on Timella as the boat battery was low and they couldn’t start the engine, eventually the engine started, anchor up and off they went to get Timella lifted out onto the hard.

Saturday 28th April 2007

The professional dinghy repairers did not exist and a fruitless search was made to find an alternative.


Such a shame we couldn’t get the dinghy repaired but we took a taxi to see how Sharon, Cameron & Lewis were getting on.

I have never met such a lucky man! the night before Cameron had met another Ozzie Yachtie who happened to be a boat builder, he offered to take a look at the rudder for Cameron. The Ozzie chap turned up and said that they had a bearing missing on the rudder, he took some measurements then jumped in a taxi, found what they were looking for and hey presto it fitted like a dream.

Next job was to anti-foul Timella’s bottom, word is that you add chilli powder to your anti-foul and nothing will stick to it. Sadly no chilli powder could be found on the boat so Cameron added Thai Green Curry sauce to the amusement off the local boat workers.

Realising we were in danger of not getting away (the beers were being distributed) we made a swift exit to pick up our gas bottles and the last of our provisions.

Pete and I had heard that there was a Swedish Butcher who sold vacuumed packed meat that lasted for three months if you keep it refrigerated.

Thank god we asked for directions on the cruisers net as we would never have found the place.

We bought 6 packs of two rib eye steaks (so big that you could cut one in half and it would feed both of us, three packets of sausages, 6 packs of two pork chops, 3 large packets of ham. As we were about to pay the guy serving us said that the smoked beef was wonderful, so off he went and came back with some for us to try… he was right it was delicious! So we bought six packs, the bill was £30, so cheap! The Pacific passages are going to be a gastronomic delight on the good ship Nadezhda.

Our “Playmates” aren’t playing tonight so Pete & I settled down for a quite night, the 1st one in many weeks.

Sunday 29th April 2007

We removed the patch from the old dinghy this morning, cleaned it up and applied it to the inside of the hole. The plan is to then put another patch on the outside and hope this works. Apart from the hole, the dinghy is reasonable and will make a good spare.

I did my usual pre-departure mast-check and was relieved to find that there are no obvious issues. Timella has a problem with her roller-furling headsail and so I agreed to go up her mast and have a look. Yes, Cameron is a rigger and should go up himself but the winches to haul him up are not man-enough to do the job. Being half the size of Cameron, his bosun’s chair was too big for me and I rattled around in it. Also, I had to help with hoisting myself up the mast (remember the puny winches?). I hoisted myself manually up in the same fashion as climbing the greasy-pole at village fetes and pulled myself up out of the bosun’s seat, a bit of frantic scrabbling later and I was back in but took the skin off my ankle and knee.

The upshot is that Timella needs a means of guiding the halyard away from the roller-furler and that they will not now be able to leave with us tomorrow. They also have a problem with loss of fresh water – a serious issue – and we do not know when they will be prepared to leave. Anyway, we will stay in the Galapagos for a while, if it is not too expensive, and we hope they will catch us up there.


Just for the record Pete is now banned from going up anyone’s mast without the correct and fitting safety gear. They may be small cuts but in this climate injuries take longer to heal due to the humidity. We will have to keep an eye on the cuts and the nasty graze on his ankle.

The Perlas Islands

Monday 16th April 2007

We decided to risk the dinghy and leave early for The Perlas Islands, worst case scenario we could always go back to Panama as its only around 40 miles.

Alarm went off at 4am to catch the tide, we had no idea as to the strength of the tide as we have no tidal information apart from high & low.

To the great relief of both of us the anchor came up quite clean as on other occasions we have spent quite a bit of time scrubbing all the grey smelly clay off.

Great sail (although 50% was under motor) and we had the cruising chute out for the last hour doing somewhere between 2 and 6 knots. The seas here are teeming with life. The first we saw of this was a huge whale that slowly surfaced, blew and then displayed its entire back, dorsal fin and sank again. It appeared again several times near Naz and we think it was a Brydes Whale due to its length, colour and very hooked dorsal. We then had to negotiate the fleet of fishing boats trawling backwards and forwards and were given a display of flying Rays. Well, they were trying to fly as they launched themselves out of the water and flapped their wings vigorously. Another fish we saw was skimming above the water using the lower part of its tail fin as propulsion. Wonderful!.

Everywhere, there are jumping fish and shoals of fish "balling-up" at the surface obviously trying to escape a larger critter as the frigates picked them off the surface.

The Perlas seem almost deserted. Jimmy Cornell's cruising guide says that you should only anchor in remote places in the company of other boats (previous incidences of pirates) but, after passing one island with no sign of life and running the length of another, we decided to put into a large deserted bay. There is nothing and no-one here except deserted sandy beaches, cliffs and pinnacles of rock jutting out of the water reminiscent of Ha-Long bay (Vietnam) or Krabi (Thailand). Absolutely beautiful.

The charts on C-Map do not have a lot of detail. We eventually decided to stop at a beach that had less swell running onto it and felt our way in. The depth stayed constant at 10m until it shelved quickly to 8, 7, 6 and we decided to move out again. Having dropped the hook, the depth was still on the up and down (between 8 and 6 metres) and we could hear the chain grumbling on rock. With another 3.5 m of tidal drop still to go, we upped the anchor and moved out a bit further. This morning there is a jagged lump of black rock sitting pretty much where we were originally positioned.

Pete pumped-up the dinghy and it is still pumped-up after 20 minutes. The edges of the patch are not as smooth as I would have liked but the whole thing is on an area of the nose that curves in every direction leading to a few wrinkles. Hopefully it will stick until we get a replacement.

A lovely night just Pete, I and Nadezhda, even though I must admit to being slightly nervous after hearing about Jimmy Cornell

Tuesday 17th April 2007

This morning we took the dinghy ashore to explore from land it is even more beautiful, soft golden sand and stunning azure blue seas it really is paradise!

Hundreds of Pelicans and Frigate birds sitting together on the beach and as soon as we got close they took to the air. Luckily for us they had already done their morning ablutions!

I found some oyster shells and I’m planning on making necklaces from the mother of pearl, not sure it’ll work but it’ll pass a few hours at sea.

In the afternoon we decided to visit Isla Del Rey only a short hop of 15 miles.

A good sail, mostly close-hauled (my favourite as I like to play with the wind) we spotted another yacht and decided to drop anchor. It was pleasant enough but nowhere as spectacular as the last island.

The wind direction would have been perfect for sailing to the Galapagos but we really wanted to see more of the Perlas Islands plus you really have to mentally prepare yourself for long passages and we weren’t prepared.

Wednesday 18th April 2007

We decided to go back to The 1st Island (Isla De San Jose) but to move slightly around the headland to another anchorage.

Another stunning anchorage!

We must have been very lucky when we 1st sailed to the Perlas Islands as we haven’t seen as much marine life apart from a shark or two that actually turned out to be Ray’s with one of their fins out off the water.. they really did look like shark fins!.


We settled for a beautiful anchorage on Isla San Jose where there is a wooden, Thai/Indonesia style hotel overlooking the rocky bay. We motored towards the beach and watched as the depth went up and down. I reckoned that the shallower parts were rock and the deeper parts probably sand and we eventually anchored in 8.5m depth. "Ok" I said, the tidal range two days ago was 4m and we are currently in 8.5 so no problem.

Wrong! Yes, it is equinoctial tide time and the moon is now just new. The tidal range was just over 5m and we had arrived bang on the high tide

So we sat and watched the depth go down. Where I was thinking that we would not see less than 4 plus metres depth, it kept going down until it reached 3.1 at the bottom of the tide. Of course, this is no problem as long as the conditions remain calm. I decided to keep a watch when Fliss went to bed and started hearing waves crashing from places where there weren't any before. I blew out the hurricane lamp, turned off the anchor light and peered into the inky black. As my eyes became accustomed, I saw two dark lines on the horizon. The first wave simply rolled gently under us, the second, larger wave got within 15 metres and started breaking. It hit us broadside-on with a crash.

I shouted to Fliss to get on deck and luckily, as the anchor came up, we had 4m depth - this meant that the shallow patches we had come over should be deep enough to get out. They were - by 0.5m......I gunned Nadezhda over these as we were luckily without waves for the period of real shallows.

So, now I have learned another lesson and won't be so lax when checking tides, depths etc. We will also ensure we are not hemmed-in by shallows and have an escape route!

Now in much deeper water and staying there!


I remember saying to Pete have you checked the tide and he was convinced that there wouldn’t be a problem, so at 11am and the boat sitting at 3.1ish metres of depth I retired.

I wasn’t asleep just reading my book when I heard a loud bang as the wave hit, the impact was so great that it launched a heavy bag from a safe place all over the galley floor, bearing in mind that we have been in high seas and seriously leaning over, this bag has never moved before, it really was a bang.

I grabbed the anchor remote and told Pete to put the deck lights on and got the anchor up as quickly as I could, as luck would have it and it was luck, no further breaking waves came in whilst bringing it up. The anchor came up in super fast time (I was worried that if we had fouled our anchor on a rock we really would be in trouble) I stood by the navigation table reading off the depth as Pete gunned it… at times it read 2.5mtrs (we draw 2) and I read the readings out to Pete, praying that Neptune would be good to us and not send any more waves in at this time. Pete was in the cockpit also looking at the depths and I think that he really didn’t need me reminding him.

Let me describe Pete, he was ashen, his nerves were in overdrive and you could probably hear his knees knocking together in Balboa.

Apologies to Nadezhda and Pete had a large glass of wine to calm down.

Thursday 19th April 2007


We took the dinghy to the beach and had a stroll around the idyllic setting before returning to Naz.

As we picked-up the dinghy to carry it back to the water, it was noticeably deflated again so we hurried it back and got it on board. Unfortunately, the patch was leaking in a couple of places and we are running out of glue. Even if we can seal the leak, it is not wise to proceed to the Pacific with the possibility of another leak so an emergency call was made to my Dad to see if he could find a dinghy supplier in Panama.

He came up trumps with a few telephone numbers and, having rung round, we think we might have two sources (although almost no choice)..

Tomorrow, we have an unscheduled visit back to Panama for the dinghy hunting exercise.

Leaving Panama

Friday 13th April 2007

Today is going to be a busy day as we have decided to leave Panama tomorrow morning at 1am to catch the tide for the Perlas Islands (only 35 miles).

Rumour had it that we would have a hard time getting our Zarpe (clearance from Panama) as we hadn’t cleared out off Colon and we hadn’t checked in at Balboa so we decided that the best course of action was to get up early so that if we did meet a “Jobsworth” there would be enough time to go back to Colon (1 and half hours bus drive) and get back in time to clear in at Balboa.

Pete and I dressed in our smartest gear and headed off to go through the formalities.

We took a taxi to Port Control Balboa to get our Zarpe and the lady in the office who spoke no English called another guy in he said that we needed to get entry clearance in order to get our Zarpe, so back in the taxi to where we had started.

The taxi driver trying to be helpful took us to the Immigration Department and again she didn’t speak English, she said call this mobile number and speak to Mr Houtinami, why we were calling him we had no idea but Pete called him anyway.

Mr “Carlos” Houtinami turned out to be Port Captain at Flamenco Bay and was wonderful! We hadn’t cleared in when we arrived on the 8th (we should have done but we didn’t know we had too) we didn’t have our exit paper from St Maarten (we think that immigration in Colon had them or Agent Ellington had forgotten to give it back) normally “Officials” do everything by the book but he just said “Don’t worry amigo, for me no problem but other port captains big problem for you” he backdated the entry form and we were 1 step closer to getting our “Zarpe”.

Back in the taxi to Port Control in Balboa and the Zarpe was issued, I nearly dropped “Carlos” in it as I bet Pete that we had left the exit paperwork from St Maartan with the 1st lady we spoke to at Port Control Balboa. I asked her if she had it and as she didn’t speak English she called another man in he said “No we don’t hold it its kept when you 1st cleared into Flamenco Bay” I never said another word but lost the $10 bet.

For me it is “Dental treatment in exotic places” as I have had problems with my back tooth (the one that I had operated on in Antigua) it is immensely sensitive to hot and cold. So I went to the dentist and Pete went with the taxi driver to the fruit & veg market & to the supermarket to stock up before leaving Panama.

An hour later, $400 lighter and a root canal we all jumped back into the taxi to do the last of the formalities, Immigration.

Stamp in the passport we were done and we took Naz to Balboa to re-fuel and re-water.

The officials in Panama were wonderful and really helpful, we do believe that if we had turned up in shorts and t-shirts the reception could have been different.

We had been invited to a party on Timella (Ozzy Cameron & Scottish Sharon’s boat) but as it had been a bit of an exhaustive day we only stayed a couple of hours. The decision to leave in the morning was postponed as Nadezhda wasn’t ready for the off.
Plus they say never sail on a Friday and being the 13th we decided not to tempt fate.

Saturday 14th April 2007

In the morning we got a taxi to Balboa yacht club to do our washing (saving our water supplies).

When we got back we dinghied past Pagos to say goodbye (they were leaving for Galapagos) and they said there was another party on Timella and were we going, being 1pm we thought we just motor past and say goodbye but we wouldn’t stop for a beer.

Best laid plans of mice & men! 8 hours later copious amounts of beer we left Timella.

A really excellent afternoon/evening, Cameron & Sharon are brilliant hosts. Sharon made a chicken curry & rice for 12+ people and somehow manage to feed anyone that turned up she really is a top girl! cooking for that many people where temperature is around 30 degrees inside the boat is no fun. Me, I would have made cheese sandwiches and even that would be hard work.

We’re hoping that they get moving soon and we’ll meet up with them in Las Perlas or Galapagos.

As you can probably guess we postponed AGAIN.

Sunday 15th April

The morning after and the skipper is suffering! I’m fine as I didn’t drink that much.

Pagos left early this afternoon, their plan is to bob all the way to the Galapagos as there is no wind and what there is on the nose. They have been sailing for about 9 years with their kids and are in no hurry so do not use the engine unless light airs and large seas combine together to cause the sails to flog too much.

Our plan is to keep a low profile today and leave tomorrow morning at 4am.

This might be in jeopardy as a large wave has just sent the dinghy underneath the Aries wind-vane and the Aries has just ripped a large hole. The problem we have is that we can’t meet the repair instructions, humidity no more than 60% here the humidity is always 80% plus and the temperature must be between 18 & 25C it never drops below 30C… Pete is going to try it and see how it goes or we have to buy a new one.

I’ve just called Sharon up on the VHF to say thank you for yesterday and she asked if we had heard the commotion in the anchorage after we left, apparently a very bizarre French man (Pete & I didn’t like him) had became quite abusive so she had to kick him off the boat, he got off their boat but just bobbed alongside and refused to go, Betsy (American lady) heard the noise and got up. Gun I hand she said “if you don’t move I’ll shoot you”, he moved!


A set of waves pushed the dinghy under the Aries and caused Naz to pitch up and down at the same time. As the Aries came down on the dinghy, it pushed an “L” shaped tear about six inches by three in the nose. The instructions on the repair kit say that two-part glue should be used for permanent repairs and we only have one-part. We shall see how long the repair lasts!

Panama - The Real Deal

1st April to 6th April 2007


We decided that it was easiest to catch a taxi back to Colon after being awakened at 06:00. The drive back through the jungle was really pretty and we arrived back at 09:00 to find that our transit had slipped to Sunday the 8th.

The next couple of days we spent re-provisioning and generally just lolling around waiting for transit. Whilst in the yacht club, I overheard that a couple of Finnish guys had got hold of a set of South Pacific charts and were off to photocopy them. I quickly introduced myself and they agreed to make two copies of all charts and to give us a set. Some of the charts were already photocopies and the end result of re-photocopying left a bit to be desired but others were good re-productions. I am a little worried by the ones that state “Orientation Chart Only – Not to be used for navigation” but, since most charts of the South Pacific Islands are inaccurate anyway, I think that they will have to do! The idea with all landfalls is to arrive in daylight and eyeball into the anchorage.

On the Thursday, we heard that schedules for transit were moving. The line-handlers that we had recruited (Dick and Sam) had been moved to transit the same day as us and so we had another recruitment drive on. I rang the scheduler and he re-instated our original date of Saturday the 7th.

Luckily, we had met a couple who had arrived recently and who we last met in Gran Canaria – small world. Graham & Judy were sailing with another crew member, Herbert from Switzerland. Graham and Herbert were doing a trial transit with another boat (Thursday & Friday) and Graham and Judy agreed to come with us on the Saturday/Sunday. They are a great couple and will be fun to have aboard.

Saturday 7th April 2007


The day has arrived and we are due to pick up our pilot at 16:00hrs on “The Flats”. “The flats” is really the entrance to the canal and also the anchorage.

This morning Pete picked up our lines from Roger at the yacht club and we had agreed with Bolivar that we would meet him at 2pm and Graham & Judy should be on the boat at 3:30pm, just making sure that everyone was onboard ready for kick-off.

Pete left me on Nadezhda at 1:30pm to pick up Bolivar and I was on VHF listening duty just in case the scheduling department called us up.

At 2:45pm (Pete was still nowhere to be seen) I watched Graham heading off to the yacht club and a call came for us over the VHF advising us that our time had been brought forward to 3:30pm.


At the yacht club, rumour had it that a boat had been bumped to the next Monday and so I rang the scheduler to confirm our transit. He informed me that our departure had been brought forward to 15:50.


A mild form of panic ensued as I had no skipper, no crew and we had 45 minutes to get the boat ready and on “The Flats” ready to receive our pilot. The penalty for not being ready is that you get fined and you drop back to the bottom off the waiting list.

I tried calling on the Yacht Club on channel 12, 14 and 16 no reply! I found the phone number for the club and the line was constantly engaged, damn!

It was now 3pm and no sign of the errant crew members! Behind us was a really nice elderly South African couple and I spotted the hubby in the cockpit. “Hello, Hello (in my best British accent) I wonder if you know the VHF channel for the Yacht Club as I need to get in touch with Pete as we have had our time brought forward”….he was a star and said “Don’t worry I’ll go & find him” and off he roared in his super fast dinghy.

Luckily Pete was on his way back with Bolivar when the man caught up with him but we were still missing our crew members. Pete deposited Bolivar and went back to the Yacht club to round them up.

At 3:20pm, thank god! We had every one on board! One reason for the mild panic is that the holding is on smelly black glup so whilst taking the anchor up someone had to scrub and wash the chain down, this all takes time!!.

It was raining! (the beginning of the rainy season) we motored past a Russian boat that was to transit with us and wondered why they hadn’t got any lines or fenders ready, we called over to the skipper and asked if they were still transiting through the canal, they said that they were due to pick up their pilot at 18:00hrs. Next thing we knew their pilot was promptly delivered but they were not ready! They also didn’t have their line handlers onboard, a complete nightmare. The Russians had already been let down the day before and were desperately trying to recruit people last night.

Our pilot was delivered at 3:45pm. Pete did an excellent job at keeping Nadezhda still whilst he got onboard.

It was still raining!

Bolivar was superb at getting the boat ready, he was like a whirling dervish! Fenders adjusted, lines flaked out and he gave Pete a great sense of being in control, plus he’s a really nice man.

Whilst making our way to the Canal entrance our pilot said “The Ruskies won’t make it, they are too late” we all really felt for them as they really had been messed about.

This is where is gets interesting! We were going to raft up against a motor boat and they were going to go against the wall. Umm….. the motor boat was much smaller than us and definitely lighter.


Bolivar said “Pedro (Pete) the cleats on the motor boat are too small for your lines, do you have any cotton” actually he never said cotton but the thickness would have been about right! So lines swapped over we rafted together.

The motor boat drove us into the lock and Pete said to the skipper “Just to let you know we are 16+ tonnes and we don’t stop that well” the skipper off the other boat replied “16 tonnes, oh shit!”.

The main concerns where that 1; we were going to crush them and 2; we would pull the cleats off the deck.


Thankfully none of the above happened and we had a very easy transit through the 1st set of locks. The motor boat had a slightly different experience as all hands were on deck trying to keep the boat and its nice shiny new metal guardrails from being mashed up on the wall. I asked the pilot if we would be with them the next day and he said that they were going straight through. Had they just decided this????

It was still raining, actually torrential rain!

Bolivar said “Madam this is a good sign, if you get through early it means you will have a safe transit through the canal”. And we did get through early! We were on the mooring buoy at 7pm.

Celebration beers cracked and we all found a little spot to shelter from the rain.

At 08:30pm the word went out the Ruskies had made it! Pete got the foghorn out and we all gave them a cheer!!!!.

But, this wasn’t the end off their traumas, they messed up tying up to the buoy, Pete, Graham & Bolivar went out to help (in the torrential rain)… their anxiety was heightened as the pilot kept shouting at them “you don’t listen, I told you how to do it and now its all my fault” he really was a nasty piece of work and obviously didn’t want to do the overtime. The pilot boat arrived to take him off and he left without saying goodbye. They must have had a really stressful time with him.


I think that the Ruskies cannot have a reverse gear. He missed the buoy by a good few yards but managed to throw us his lines. We pulled him in but he kept going forward and nearly mashed our Aries steering gear, fended-off and eventually tied-up, we slopped our way out of the rain for steaming plates of spicy chilli-con-carne.

The Russians came aboard later for a couple of drinks with their one-year-old daughter. Very friendly people they were and we sat and chatted in the hot, steamy enclosed cabin with the hatches closed to keep out the rain.
A few tins of beer later and Bolivar serenaded us with local Panamanian songs and a surprisingly good voice. The Russians left us to it and we eventually retired at 02:00 ready for our alarm call at 05:30.

Sunday 8th April 2007

The pilot boat arrived soon after we had demolished the first round of coffees. Three boats in all were waiting to run the second leg of the transit – across Gatun Lake and down through the locks on the Pacific side. Bolivar noticed that the pilot boat had only two advisors aboard and said that, sometimes, boats were left to wait until the following day to go through. So, we jumped up and down and waved them over. To no avail, the advisors were deposited on the other two boats and off they went! They then came over and, to our relief told us that they would return with another advisor in half an hour. This puts the pressure on as we would have to catch up with the lead boats in order to pass through the locks with them.

45 minutes later, the pilot boat re-appeared and dumped our pilot aboard.


He certainly made an appearance! He fell onto the cockpit seats and lolled around, I thought he was really hungover but Pete said “oh no he’s just pissed as a newt”. He declared that he had been in the bar till 4am and had come straight to the boat he wasn’t at all embarrassed just proud of the fact. Coffee anyone?

Bolivar said that his brother was a very rich and powerful man in Panama so no one could say anything. I think the pilot boat realised he was drunk and held him back for a while in a vain attempt to sober him up.

He was actually quite nice but the drunk ramblings drove everyone out off the cockpit and on deck, poor Pete being the skipper had to stay behind and just ummed and ahhed in all the right places.

When he asked me which way was left & right I put the kettle back on AGAIN!


Having transited previously, I knew which way to head but the entrance to the small boat channel was unclear and it took a few attempts to get our Pilot to guide us to the right-hand side of a yellow buoy. Once in the channel, it was well marked and I was confident I knew where we were going. As we came into the main shipping channel, our Pilot told us to go through the short-cut known as the Monkey Channel. On our trial transit, the advisor told us that it was shallow and the it should only be attempted by shallow draught boats. I queried this and the Advisor said “who cares, it’s not my boat”. Actually, we had no less than 10 metres depth and we continued to take short-cuts and cut-corners until we caught up with the Ruskies and had the other (French) boat in our sights. The Advisor’s main job was as a tug boat captain and he obviously knew Gatun lake very well.

We entered into Guillard Cut (where the hills were cut away into a narrow channel) and soon arrived at the Pacific locks at the same time as the leading French boat. It was decided that we would tie ourselves to the French boat and go through the locks rafted together. This we did and practiced a little manoeuvring whilst we waited. It was agreed that, since Nadezhda had the more powerful engine and also a bowthruster, we would be the driving boat and the French would simply help with any emergency manoeuvrability issues.

The good news was that our Advisor was now back in the land of the living but sporting a monumental hangover, in all fairness he knew his stuff and we had a uneventful transit through the last three locks into the Pacific.

As we entered the last locks we hoisted our English flag (George Cross) so that if anyone was looking at home via the webcam on the dockside they could see us.

As the last lock gate opened the heavens opened, welcome to the Pacific! Celebration beers cracked, Henry Lloyds on we made our way to Balboa to drop off crew and the pilot.

As we went under “The Bridge of Americas” we all threw coins under the bridge as it’s meant to be good luck!.

I think that a good time was had by all and it was great having Bolivar onboard as he really added to the enjoyment of the transit, a real gentleman and a good sport.

As we entered the anchorage we spotted Cameron (a mad Ozzie) and his wife Sharon (Scottish). Sharon being a proud Scot had a Scottish flag flying. Pete said quick get the English flag we promptly pegged it to the guard rails… A loud Scottish voice boomed “Git that roobissh doown”. Followed by an Ozzie accent “Hope you’ve got some cold beers on board”.

We decided to have a quite night as we were both shattered by the last 2 weeks of partying.

Rob & Lilly are here and it was so sweet as when she saw us she cheered and said “You made it! Congratulations and welcome to the Pacific”.

There is so much hype about going through the Canal and too many old wives tales, anyone out there who is planning on going through, fear not!