Saturday, June 27, 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015

Our Transit of the Panama Canal

On Wednesday, June 24th, the day of our transit, we were awake and ready by 6:00am. We called "Flamenco Signal Station" and were told that our canal advisor should arrive around 7:00am. About 7:20 Guillermo arrived and hopped aboard. The advisor is in constant contact with the canal authorities, adjusting your speed, telling you exactly where to be, and how you will be handled in the locks. As we slowly motored up the channel, past the Balboa Yacht Club, and under the Bridge of the Americas, he told us we would be behind the Baltic Breeze, and have a starboard tie to a tug. A side tie to a tug is the easiest way to transit because you don't have to handle the long lines. You just raft up to the tug and the tug's crew does all the work.
After we got rafted up to the tug the bells clanged and the giant lock doors closed and the water started boiling up around us. Since we didn't have to handle any lines, we were free to take photos, look around, and marvel at this hundred year old feat of engineering.
Here is the lock wall at the beginning of the fill.
Here is the lock wall at the end of the fill.
After each lock filled we quickly untied our lines, motored away from the tugs and allowed them to move ahead first. Then they would tie to the wall and we would tie to them again.
The first set of lock is called Miraflores and there are two lock there. After we exited the second Miraflores lock we motored about 2 miles to the last Pacific lock; Pedro Miguel. Then we cranked up the engine to 2950 rpms and tried to make it to the Atlantic locks in time, but since we had gotten into the first lock at 10:45, our chances didn't look good. At about 5:00pm our advisor told us we would have to spend the night on a mooring buoy and finish our transit the next day. He guided us to the spot (see large black dot on map below)....

and told us how to tie up to the buoy. We put bumpers out and snugged up a bow line and a stern line, effectively rafting up to the buoy. The thing was huge and we all laughed at this new way of mooring to a buoy. Then Guillermo hopped onto the buoy and the pilot boat whisked him away. The next morning while waiting for the new advisor, we hopped onto the buoy for some photos too.

At 9:30 our new advisor, Hector, arrived and we motored towards the three Gatun locks. He told us we would go in front of Gannet Bulker and do a port side tie to a barge. With our experience from the day before we quickly accomplished that and then waited for the electric mules to slowly bring the ship up behind us. The draining of the locks is less turbulent than the filling and it only takes about 10 minutes per lock.
After the first lock, the barge captain asked us to let go and stand by while he got underway first. He quickly moved to the starboard side of the next lock and unloaded a small crane, then was back to the port side by the time we arrived to tie up again. Those guys were so efficient and friendly.
Here is our raft up with the Gannet Bulker behind us.
In the final lock we could see the Caribbean Sea (well, the approach to it anyway).

After the last lock we said Adios to Grulla and left the lock first. We motored over to the "flats" where Hector was picked off our boat by the pilot boat and we were free to at last enter the Caribbean Sea.

Dickinson Stove Review

We have lived with this stove for over a year now, so I think it's safe to make some comments about its design, quality, and functionality. Before we bought it we compared other brands and chose the Dickinson because it had the highest BTU burners, a broiler, and a good reputation. We are living aboard and cruising full time, so we use the stove several times a day for all kinds of cooking: frying, boiling, simmering, baking, and broiling. In the past year I have discovered a some problems with this stove that vex me to no end! And Dickinson offers no help when I call them.

The large burner in the back rarely stays lit. To keep it lit I have to wedge a spoon between the oven door handle and the rail to keep the burner knob pushed in. The igniter clicks away the whole time, but at least it stays lit.

The big burner is in the back where it is partially obscured by the deck overhead. A large pot back there is very difficult to see into and almost impossible to work in. Everyone know the big burners on a stove are supposed to be in front! That's where all the action is: frying, sautéing, rapid boiling. You put the little pots that are just simmering on the back so they are out of the way, and all the intense cooking happens at the front of a stove. Did Dickinson even consult an actual cook when they designed this thing?

The oven knob has temperatures marked on it, but they do nothing. It's all a joke. When I turn the oven on, the flame goes full blast and just keeps going with no temperature adjustment whatsoever. To keep my oven temperature anywhere near a constant setting, I use an oven thermometer and turn the burner off and on.

The broiler is so puny that I can touch the broiler pan and not get burned. I usually run the broiler for 15 minutes before I put the meat in and I have an upside down cookie pan under my broiler pan to get the meat closer to the flame, but still our broiled meats are a sickly shade of beige. However, the outside of the oven door gets hot enough to cause burns. How can this be?

There are many, many sharp edges on the stove, fiddle rail, and inside the oven. Cleaning the thing is downright dangerous. It's like the parts were cut out or punched out and never had the edges eased or sanded. Those sharp corners on the bottom of the stove make cleaning under the stove an arm cutting event. I am super careful when cleaning the stove, but I usually end up with at least one cut. I just keep the band-aids nearby.


The one good thing about this stove is that it's made of high quality stainless steel with a nice brushed finish. Hmmmmm, is that a good enough reason to buy a stove?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Lines and Tires

We have our lines and our tires now. All we need is our crew, Mike and Linda, who will be arriving tomorrow morning. And Steve from Seahorse V will be our fourth line handler. We are set to transit on Wednesday, June 24th.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Weekend at Isla Taboga

Our friends Wayne and Sheila on WaySheGoes II arrived from Golfito Friday afternoon and anchored at Isla Taboga. We and Seahorse V decided to go over there for the weekend to visit them. We had a relaxed dinner at the Chinese Restaurant Friday night. We enjoyed watching the geckos on the ceiling as we caught up with them and met their daughter Marnie.

On Saturday the locals started arriving for a fun day in the sun. Taboga is quite popular with the Panamanians because it's so close to Panama City. Beach umbrellas sprouted on the beach, music blared from boats, and kayaks and jet skis swarmed around. It was great to be out there enjoying the fine weather (read "no rain") with everyone. That evening we all enjoyed dinner together on Seahorse V and Sunday we went snorkeling around El Morro. It was great to get away from La Playita, see WaySheGoes II, and have our hilariously entertaining morning net again.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Transit Requirements

We have secured an agent to assist with our canal transit. His name is Peter Stevens and he has been an agent for many years so he really knows his stuff. He quickly arranged for us to be measured on Wednesday May 27th although we don't plan on transiting until June 23rd.

The total cost for transiting the Canal is $1416.70. The Canal toll is $800.00. The inspection fee is $54.00. The security fee is $300.00. The line and tire rental is $80.00. The actual agency fee is only $300.00, which we consider money well spent since Peter has made our preparations almost effortless. There is also a bank commission, some taxes, and some fax/telephone fees.

In addition to the fees and paperwork, a boat must have four line handlers besides the helmsman. Our friends Mike and Linda are coming from La Paz to transit with us, and we will use Steve from Seahorse V for our fourth. With the mandatory Canal advisor, that will make six people on our little boat. If your transit takes two days, the advisor doesn't spend the night, but your line handlers do. The Canal says you must provide "clean restroom facilities and decent meals" for the advisor and line handlers.

The final things we need to get are four 125' lines at least 3/4" diameter, and eight tires to act as fenders against other boats or the lock walls. Hopefully we will not get anywhere near the lock walls, but all the boats use huge fenders or tires when they transit. Peter's agency will provide these too.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

New Header

I created a new header from a photo Sheila took of us back in April as we sailed towards Bahia Santa Maria. It was a nice day and she got several good shots of us. I don't have Photoshop on my laptop, so I had to use an online version and it took me forever to get it done. The online version doesn't use keystrokes like I prefer, but I eventually got it figured out.


Panama City: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The weather in Panama City in the rainy season is pretty predictable: hot days with overcast overcast skies and a chance of afternoon thunderstorms. The fresh water washes the boat nicely and the clouds create beautiful sunsets. The people in Panama City are friendly and helpful and often speak some English. The buses cost only 25 cents and are air conditioned and go directly to the Albrook Mall which is a delightful place to spend the day. They not only have department stores, but home improvement stores, several high end American stores, food courts, a carousel, and a great supermarket called Super 99. The mall has so many entrances that each one is prominently marked with a huge fiberglass animal to help you find your way. The tiger entrance is right across from the main bus terminal where you can transfer from the city buses to buses into the interior of the country. And taxis are everywhere, so transportation is easy in Panama.


Panama City is a huge international city with a thriving economy based on the Canal, the Colon Free Zone, banking, insurance, shipping, and tourism. However, when Panama thinks of tourists, they only think of the ones who fly in for a week, unload a wad of cash doing prepackaged tours, then go home. They don't think about us cruisers at all. And who can blame them? We represent a very small percentage of the total tourist industry, and we are free thinkers who rarely follow the crowd.

However, we still need basic services like restaurants, grocery stores, laundry, fuel, and repair services. And we usually stay more than one week, so our expenditures could conceivably add up to more than the average tourist. Would if kill the City to put in a few dinghy docks at the popular anchorages?

We are anchored in one of the free anchorages here. It's called La Playita and is just outside a new marina of the same name. To get to shore we must dinghy up to their ferry dock and pay $37.00 per week for the privilege. They will happily allow resident sportfishing boats to tie up to said dock to fuel up, but we must bring jerry jugs in our dinghys since we are not allowed into the marina proper. They also have a laundry room right there, but we are not allowed to use it. So we schlep our laundry out to the road, load it onto the bus, travel 4 km to a neighborhood called La Boca, get off the bus and walk two more blocks, drop off the laundry, then go back the next day to pick it up. Groceries are a similar chore. The best store we've found so far is Super 99 at the Albrook Mall, about 8 km away. They are open 24 hours a day, the bus goes directly to the mall from the marina road, and have decent produce.
The mooring buoys at the Balboa Yacht Club are not reliably maintained and controlled. We went to Las Perlas Islands and they agreed to hold our buoy if we paid for the three days we were gone. Of course, when we came back someone else was on our buoy, so we ended up down with the work boats who run their engines 24 hours a day and kick up huge wakes as they flit back and forth.
Our friends were on a buoy for three days and suddenly in the middle of the night were awoken by horns and bright lights. They had drifted two miles down the channel because the rope pennant was worn through. Thank God the current kept them in shallow water and not out in the channel where a freighter could have run them down. 
The launch (which you MUST use while at the BYC) is unreliable, sometimes coming in 30 minutes, sometimes coming in 2 minutes, sometimes crashing into your hull, and sometimes saying there's too much rain to come get you at all!
The water and the air are terribly polluted here in Panama City because of the many ships, tugs, and pilot boats; the cranes, forklifts, and equipment at the port; all the cars in the City; and refineries close by. Our water line gets dirty with a brown slimy growth just days after cleaning it and the whole boat is sticky inside and out. I just keep washing it with vinegar and hoping we will be to clean conditions soon.