Saturday, July 4, 2020

Panama Canal Transit (and haul-out) April 2017

Roundabout transiting the Panama Canal!

As a small vessel, compared to the behemoths that transit the canal, you just can't rock up and radio for a transit time. We were able to do so transiting the Greek Corinth Canal, but that does not fly with the Panama Canal Authority. Nope, you have to fill out some paperwork, call for someone to come measure the boat and then wait for your assigned transit date. We decided to use an agent, due to the fact we needed to haul out and wanted to spend the time working on the boat and not running to various offices completing paperwork.  Another tip is if you come in with a few other boats and use the same agent--you'll get a discount! Our total cost for the agent was $300 (we used Eric).

We met with Customs/Immigration and got scanned into the country. Their machine broke, so we had to complete this over the course of two days. Next was the Port Captain to complete the cruising permit forms. He is not there every day and not always at the same time. Be sure to ask when you arrive to get the current schedule. Both offices are located behind the Shelter Bay Marina office.
After meeting with the PC to fill out paperwork (all in Spanish, no English) for all of about 10 minutes, he delivered the permit back 2 days later. If you do it yourself in Colon, you can get the cruising permit the same day (that is the office where all the stamps are housed).

At the time we arrived, there was an 8 day waiting period. No problemo, we were hauling out anyway. We scheduled our transit date for April 17th, which would give us plenty of time for completing the haul out projects and re-splash.
Hauling out.

We hauled out on Friday, April 5th and spent the next 10 days doing boat projects. We stripped all the layers of bottom paint off all the way down to the gelcoat (this is one heck of a messy project--blue dust EVERYWHERE!). We covered what we could and took all the cushions inside. We also kept all the hatches closed. It still involved a major clean up job. After making sure everything was smooth, we applied two coats of Sea Hawk Tuff Stuff epoxy barrier primer and then 2 coats of Sigma Eco Fleet 530 antifouling (we couldn't get Sea Jet here, as we had in Greece). They had some other options, but we wanted the color blue to match the stripe on the boat.

Ten days later we splashed and it felt SO good! Face it, leaving any boatyard feels good!
We did a huge provisioning shop in Panama City. One fellow sailing mama rented a car, so she, myself, and another sailing mama hit the town! We filled that car up so full, we could barely peek out over the top of all the stuff! Part of the shopping included things we had to have on board for the agents. You must have cold bottled water (sealed), snacks, and feed them breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you don't provide hot meals, they can call and order food, which is billed to you at a minimum cost of $350!

Yes, we were THAT close! Our group had stopped to watch her cross the road and stopped traffic for her to safely cross.

We had some friends want to transit the canal with us, and since we needed a couple more line handlers anyway, we told them to come on down. Around 10pm on April 15th, they arrived. We spent the 16th prepping for the transit and exploring a little more of Panama. The jungle surrounds the marina and you wake up and go to sleep to the sound of howler monkeys, birds, and insects. We took walks through the old Fort Sherman, which is being slowly taken over by nature. Bats have taken up residence in the buildings. There is a leopard which hangs about. It would have been so cool to see it, but we never did. Another cruiser went for an early morning walk and came face to face with it! Another sailor warned us that the leopard will come into the marina and was caught on camera doing so. I couldn't help but think how cool it would be to see a leopard come onto our Leopard, but if it did, we never knew. We kept Sunny and her food bowl inside though, just to be safe.

Night before we left to transit the canal!

Splashed again and removing the kid netting.

This stuff works WONDERS!

Boat kids!

School in the cafe (and air conditioning!)

I taught a chemistry lab to the boat kids in the marina.

Our agent emailed us updates and confirmed our transit date. We would not know the exact time until one day before. Sure enough, about 24 hours before transit, we heard that we'd be going through in one day, with a 4:30am start time. We stocked an ice chest full of cold drinks and had a huge container of snacks ready to go. Our menu for the transit was breakfast burritos, spaghetti bolognese, salad, and fresh-baked bread for lunch, and Panamanian style tamales for dinner. The snacks ranged from a huge variety of pre-packaged trail-mix, granola bars, protein bars, candy bars, sliced fruit and veggies, and such.

3:45am we were hailed on the VHF and so by 4am on April 17th, we left the marina and went out into the anchorage area to wait for the advisor to board. Eduardo and David arrived around 4:45am and with a smooth transition over to Roundabout, we were then on our way to the first set of locks. We ended up with two advisors, as Eduardo was training David. Eduardo is pretty high up in the chain of command, so we felt fortunate to have him on board. He is also a tugboat captain on other days, assisting larger vessels through the canal. He spent the day telling us all sorts of fun facts about the Canal and life in Panama. I had offered coffee or tea with breakfast once they were on board, but Eduardo said to not worry and that we would get through the first set of locks and then have breakfast. He was so nice and chill, that it made me instantly relax. I had read so many stories that I was a bit nervous.

We reached the first set of three locks, the Gatun Locks, around 6am. We rafted up with a small monohull on our starboard side and moved together into the first lock. I had a huge container of snacks and passed them all around, even to our very appreciative neighbors! By 6:45am, we had lines up to the guys on the wall and our line handlers ready to adjust once the water began to change. What a true marvel the canal is! Such engineering involved! To think that they have operated for over 100 years without fail is astounding! The locks were (for a long time) the world's largest concrete structures. Each lock is 110 feet wide and 1000 feet long. The entire Gatun Locks system, including the approach walls is just over 1.08 nautical miles in length.

Things started off slowly, with only a bit of water churning and then suddenly, we felt the water bubble and shift around us. The force was very strong! We slowly adjusted the lines and pulled in the extra slack as we rose up towards the top of the lock.  Once the water level had reached the appropriate height, the doors opened and we moved forward into the next lock. The process was repeated again and we were raised up to about 80 feet above the Atlantic sea level! Before we knew it, we were un-rafting and motoring out into Gatun Lake! This man-made lake covers about 116.64 square nautical miles and was formed by erecting the Gatun Dam across the Chagres River. Towards the Pacific side, we passed through the Gaillard Cut. This cut is carved through rock and shale of the Continental Divide and the unusual history and geology has remained a point of interest from all around the world. It measures 7.4 nautical miles long and the colors are beautiful!

It took about 4 hours (a little over 20 nautical miles) to get across the lake to the next set of locks, the Pedro Miguel Locks and the Miraflores Locks. The first step is to go through the Pedro Miguel Locks. As we were lowered down about 30 feet, we slowly let out the lines. After crossing Miraflores Lake, we reached the final two steps down to the Pacific Ocean, the Miraflores Locks. Due to the Pacific's extreme tidal variations, the Miraflores lock gates are the tallest. The Miraflores Lock system is just about 1 nautical mile in length.

As the Pacific Ocean flowed past our bows, we celebrated all around! A pilot boat picked up our advisors and after a final wave they set off into the setting sun. Another crew came round to pick up the fenders and lines we had borrowed from our agent. We then set off to anchor near Playita and ended the evening with a nice meal and discussed the day. It was a magical experience to transit the canal in our own vessel!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Roundabout Update!

Hi all! I am a bit behind on writing out blog posts. I am working on the Panama Canal Transit post and will get that up soon. In the meantime, if you are curious what the Roundabout crew is up to and where we are, take a look at our facebook page.

~Roundabout crew

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sailing to Panama

After spending a day and night along on the Hogsty atoll (such an amazing place!), we set our course for Matthewtown, Great Inagua to clear out of the country. Arriving to the anchorage in front of the town presented us with a problem. The surf was up and it was a very bumpy area. Two other boats rocked and rolled in the swell.
Matthew in front of Matthewtown.

We launched the dingy and had to time boarding it with the swell. We ran out of dinghy fuel back while exploring the reef (I told Jared we should have filled up back in Georgetown), so we ended up having to row ashore this time. It was slow going, as we fought the huge swell passing abeam to us. Eventually, we landed ashore without taking on any water. After pulling Hermes up the beach and making sure all was secure, we set off to complete our list of errands. Stef and Zach walked the mile to the customs and immigration offices (they are no longer located at the Government docks. Instead you have to walk about another half mile to a warehouse building. Thankfully, it is clearly labeled Customs and Immigration). Jared completed the grocery shopping and getting fuel for Hermes.

A couple of hours later, we were back ready to launch into the building surf. 2 years of cruising and we've never had a mishap. Our luck ran out this time. This beach had a reef running the entire length of the beach out to sea. It is super shallow, so we couldn't get in until we were into deeper water.

As we were trying to launch, a huge wave overtook us and we were thrown back onto the reef bordering the beach. The dinghy was filled to overflowing, groceries floating about, and some shoes and things washing ashore. We sorted things out and tried again, with success. It was a nerve-wracking time and we swore we'd never try to go ashore in high surf again. This was just too dangerous.

Once back on board Roundabout, we put away our groceries (thankfully, no salt water damage, even the bread!). We thoroughly rinsed everything in fresh water, including the starter battery box. After drying everything, we were ready to take off.

We hauled anchor around 5pm and sailed off into the sunset towards Panama.

It took us about 5 days to arrive. Unfortunately, we arrived in the dark, which is never ideal. As this is a  busy area, we figured the charts would be pretty accurate. They were and we followed in the lighted buoys and our chart to the anchorage just outside of the marina. We did not want to enter Shelter Bay marina in the dark.

The next morning, we pulled in and docked at the haul-out area, as we prepare to haul out to do some boat jobs. We are going to strip the entire bottom and apply fresh barrier epoxy and antifouling paint.
We are also going to change the seals and oil in our saildrives (we did the engines and generator oil/service recently). We hope to splash within a week or so, as we prepare to transit the canal on the 17th.
More of our adventures in Panama coming up in the next few posts. =)


A dolphin visited our boat and swam with us all day long! So magical!

We have sailed the Mediterranean, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and explored all over the Caribbean from Barbados to the Bahamas. We have seen more marine life and stunning water colors since arriving to these lovely islands a few weeks ago. We keep saying, "Wow"!
Nature's swimming pool! 
Family time!
Steve and Tina captured this lovely pic of our dolphin friend. To see more of Steve's amazing
photography skills, check out his website:  
Tree swing at Chat-N-Chill beach.

We swam all day with our dolphin friend!

We met up with Jared's parents in Georgetown, Exumas who flew in for a week. It was so good to see some family after almost 2 years away. Our friends Steve and Tina also came out and stayed aboard with us for the week. We explored the town of Georgetown, swam with a dolphin right at our boat for a day (it stayed until nightfall, but what an amazing experience), and moseyed on over to Chat-N-Chill beach for a day. That place is tons of fun! Volleyball courts, little beach shack, swings, swimming with the stingrays, treehouse, slacklines, and all sorts of things for kids (and adults) to do. We met all sorts of people and made new friends. We can see why people get stuck here for awhile.

Family volleyball match.

Exploring Georgetown.
Roundabout at sunset, Great Inagua Island.

After sailing around Great Exuma island with the grandparents, it was time for them to return to California. We said our 'see-you-laters' and set off for White Cay with our friends to see the pigs. We sailed north for a couple of hours and anchored off of white cay. The pigs are a bit shy at first, but friendly. After seeing we had some goodies for them, they slowly entered the water near the dinghy. They sat like little puppy dogs, mouths wide open, awaiting the treats. We fed them lettuce, carrots, and apples. Zach brought some cheese pizza and a chocolate chip cookie along for his snack, but they fell out of his bag on accident and the piggies gobbled them up! I hope their tummies were ok after that rich food! When they saw we were out of food, they slowly wandered back to the beach.

The following morning, we dropped Steve and Tina off at a little restaurant on the beach across the bay. Turns out, this was the same restaurant featured in the Fyre Festival documentary. We had a couple of cold drinks while they waited for their taxi.

We were surprised by lemon sharks feeding close to shore, so of course, that distracted us for awhile. They are so swift and graceful in their movements!

Just after sunrise, we exited the cut and out into the ocean for a sail north to Rudder Cut Cay. It is all about the tides and current, here in the Bahamas!

We heard there was an underwater statue that needed to be discovered. Turns out, this is one of David Copperfield's islands. He also owns Musha Cay and a handful of others in the area. If you have a spare $42k, you can rent Musha Cay resort for a day.

We dropped the hook of Rudder Cut Cay and dinghied over to explore the sea caves and the mermaid/piano statues. It's pretty easy to free dive down to the statue. Word on the street is that the original one was stolen a few years ago, so this one they affixed to a concrete block. Another cruiser mentioned seeing a 6' nurse shark in the area, but we didn't see it. As we sailed by Musha Cay, a gentleman came out of one of the remote houses and waved at us. Could it have been the famous magician himself? We couldn't tell from so far away. If so, hello Mr. Copperfield! =)

From there, we moved on to Great Inagua. We anchored off one of the beaches and fed the iguanas lettuce. They are quite a beautiful mixture of pink and green skin, and very friendly.
We made a pit stop at Blackpoint for some of Lorraine's mom's special coconut bread, as well as her coconut raisin cinnamon bread. These made amazing french toast!

Meeting Lorraine's mama and buying some fresh coconut bread!

We spent the night anchored off another beach on Great Inagua. They all seem to have iguanas roaming around, so you can't miss out on seeing them.

They come up to you as soon as you land on the beach. 

Thunderball Grotto was our next stop along the island chain. We spent one night anchored off of the Grotto and then moved around the corner to Big Majors Cay to wait out a blow coming through. The pigs here are famous and know it. They are a bit more aggressive than the shy White Cay piggies, but simply hold up your hands and they will go find someone else that has some tasty morsels for them. We saw lots of little piglets here as well.
Cruisers' beach, Big Majors Cay

Crystal clear water!

Hermes at the edge of the gorgeous water (cruiser's  beach)

Pigs of all shapes and sizes! The little ones were so cute!

Nurse sharks at Staniel Cay.

Fun tree at Chat-N-Chill beach.

Petting the friendly stingrays.
We spent a few days hanging out at cruiser's beach, snorkeling the grotto again, checking out Staniel Cay (go swim with the sharks off the marina), and waited for a fridge part to show up from Watermakers air (we replaced the compressor module). After swapping out the parts, we were back in business and made our way up to Little Halls Pond Cay, also known as Johnny Depp's private island. You will know for sure it is his, because of this sign on the beach: "This is NOT Disney. You are NOT welcome". We were hoping to catch a glimpse of our fellow pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow, but alas, he was out sailing the high seas during our visit. Right next to his island is a rock known as The Aquarium. This place has the most tropical fish we've ever seen in one place! Wow! We wandered around the other little islands and beaches, and prepped to cross over to the island of Eleuthera the next day.

We sailed about 5-6 hours and dropped the hook in greenish tinged water off Poison Point. The kids built a little campfire and we cooked dinner and made s'mores. We invited the other boats in the anchorage and made some new friends. The next morning was Monday, so we dinghied over to The Island School for a tour. Zach heard about this amazing marine science school and wanted to check it out. Stef ended up with a job offer at the end of the tour (no, she didn't take it,but perhaps a summer position in the future).  Zach  decided to apply to attend their Sophomore year. If you are in the area, please go see all the projects their students are working on. Simply hands-on project based learning at its finest!

The next couple of days were spent adventuring around Rock Sound with our new friends. One of them had a daughter Cadence's age, so she was happy to finally have another sailor girl to hang with.

We saw two of the big Ocean Holes inland, cliff dove, and crawled through Cathedral Cave, winding around the spider webs, bats, and all!

Planning on where to jump off at the Ocean Hole  (closest one to Rock Sound)

Cathedral Cave with the bats

At first light, we sailed back over to the Exumas and anchored off Norman Cay. This is also one of the islands featured in the Fyre Festival documentary. The current here can be wicked, so be sure to set out a 2nd anchor (aka bahamian style anchoring), otherwise you risk the anchor chain messing up your bottom paint when the current is one direction and the wind another.

From Norman Cay, we spent another night at Rudder Cut Cay, and then moved on to Georgetown, as we hopped our way south. We rode out another weather system here for a few days and went to play at Chat-N-Chill beach every day. So. Much. Fun!

Mid-afternoon, after getting some last minute provisions, we set off for Hog Cut Cay. We ended up not liking how it looked, even with high tide (take your dinghy in ahead if you are uncertain of the depth. A portable depth sounder is VERY handy for situations like these).

Sunny on Castle Island.

Shipwreck treasures on Hogsty Reef Atoll (Sand spit)

We anchored off for the night and at first light, went around the long way, around Long Island. It definitely has the correct name. We spent the night off of Castle Island (this beach is really cool and the old abandoned lighthouse deserves a look as well--don't go inside though, its falling apart). Snorkel the reefs there, as you'll see lots of pretty fish and colorful coral.

Anchored off Hogsty Reef Atoll.
We moved on to Hogsty Reef Atoll the following day and had the place to ourselves for the afternoon and evening! This is a truly amazing place, with so much wildlife! We found a few conch and made fritters (freeze them for 24 hours, then you can easily remove them without breaking the shell). You can only visit this place when the sea and weather are very calm. There are over 200 wrecks in the area. Ashore, there are lots of shipwreck treasures like pottery, glass, square nails, and remnants of cargo. We placed these on a flat piece of concrete towards the pillar on the east side of Sand Cay. Please add to these but don't take so that others can enjoy. Some of the pottery is stamped London 1888. You can snorkel some of the wrecks (you'll see at least 2 large cargo shipwrecks and the rest are below the surface). There's nice coral, lots of conch, and fish.

Next morning at daylight, we sailed on to Matthew-town, Great Inagua. We cleared out, got some provisions, dinghy fuel, and then set off on our 5-day passage to Panama! Jungle, here we come!

Next up: we arrive in Panama, haul out, explore the jungle, and prep for the canal transit.