Shelter Bay January 28-February 3, 2020 – Atlantic side
Panama City February 4 – February 8, 2020 – Pacific side
The Panamanian rhythm invaded us as soon as we moored in Shelter Bay, on the Atlantic side of the channel, in a welcoming marina, apparently very fascinating for the mangroves that line the entrance fjord, ultra-protected in all wind and sea conditions, surrounded from a rainforest inhabited by howler monkeys, the Cerro Pavone and giant yellow and turquoise butterflies, actually purgatory and an obligatory place for the interminable completion of the paperwork for crossing the canal. This is the reason for the blackout in Ariel’s diaries. However, the days passed quickly despite the Panamanian rhythm, also because they were stratified with problems to be solved, the constant of every navigator with his own boat.
We arrived from San Blas with two blown batteries and the 24 volt system in crisis. You never give up, and thanks to a little luck and the meeting with Rudy, a Dutch nautical electrician, we managed with 20 hours of work in 3 intense days to arrive at a satisfactory solution to the problem. I won’t go into details, but Ariel is better today and is equipped with a new battery park increased in safety and capacity with the new FireFly batteries (Carbo-Agm) whose videos on you tube I recommend to all sailors. 2019 was a dry year, with little rain in the Panama region, so the transit pattern for ARC boats, and for each sailboat, is changed; no longer together with groups of 12 to fill the lock tank, but only 3 at a time, together with a large ship.This has greatly slowed down transit times, but above all it has messed up the plans of many crews, with arrivals and departures of guests and friends. We too have been struck by the ax of delays. We will cross on February 3 instead of February 2, forcing friends Guido and Luisa to abandon Ariel in order not to risk losing the flight back home, and myself to make a little thundering voice with the organization to re-protect them with a passage on another boat.and myself to make the voice a little thunderous with the organization to re-protect them with a passage on another boat.and myself to make the voice a little thunderous with the organization to re-protect them with a passage on another boat.
Crossing the canal
So it happens and the 2nd on board Jan, the rassy 48 of his friend Giorgio, the Sardinian-American surgeon, while we with the newcomers, Marco and Margherita, and Guido Giatti, who having the flight on the 5th, decides to run the risk (he would have moved it so much in case of further delay, he said a little worried, but in reality very motivated to live the experience of the passage). At 6 pm on February 3 we leave our moorings together with Domini, the English 47-foot catamaran, and Maximilian, a beautiful Moody 47 always English, not recent, but with evergreen lines that came from Bill Dixon’s pencil.
The dark comes early as we dangle out of the port in the vast area protected by the sea but not by the strong wind that blows up to 25 knots from the north waiting for our Advisor, the man of the canal, who will accompany us for the first part of the route. The Panama Canal joins the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific by crossing an artificial lake, Lake Gatùn, located 26 meters above the Atlantic level, with a system of 3 locks, to then return to the Pacific by lowering, more or less, meter. with three other locks. We proceed through the night by motor in an ideal corridor, passing huge ships and red buoys that are not always illuminated, to find ourselves at the first lock at 8 pm. We join in 3, Domini in the middle, us on the left and Maximilian on the starboard. Tied we enter in unison the 1000 foot lock, mostly occupied by an immense ship,and in line we little ones. The excitement is great, and the procedure is not really child’s play.
The giant studded metal hatch built in Pennsilvanya in the early 1900s slowly closes at our stern and the water slowly rises. The lighting and colors, similar to lead, black rock and volcanic stone, refer the mind to an imaginary of an ancient London, damp, gray and black. While the water rises at a rate of one meter per minute, our men at the bow and stern tops (Guido and Margerita at the bow and Marco at the stern) must recover at a slow but steady pace, without error, under penalty of crossing , while at the helm I try to keep the bow straight, because we depend on Maximilian on the starboard side and on Domini on the center. Upon arrival at level (9 meters per lock) we are ready to move on to the next, while the wind strengthens and we suffer helpless turbulence from the ship’s propellers.But with an “excelente” from our advisor, recuoriamoa proceed towards the second lock. The operation closes at 2230, when in the gray night, poorly lit by the moon due to the blanket of clouds, we enter Lake Gatùn, where we spend the night attached to a huge rubber buoy. At the table at 11 pm with a good wine and the magical baked pasta of Ceci, skillfully prepared beforehand, much appreciated also by our Ivan who leaves us for the night, when we will wait for the next advisor for the second half of the passage at dawn on the 4th February. A dawn that passes with a good coffee but without Advisor, which reveals itself at 9, young, but which will prove to be less prepared than the first. The day begins with the crossing of Lake Gatùn, of 25 miles, while we appreciate its wild nature without seeing any crocodiles,constant inhabitant of these waters, where no human lives. See you tomorrow for the rest of the diary.