I have been out of touch for a while because for many days we did not have internet
    connection for the computer. I was sending some notes from my Blackberry (my cell
    phone).  It is amazing that we got a signal in so many far away places.

    The day we expected with so much anxiety finally came. The Panama Canal crossing.
    Probably many of you already crossed this famous landmark so I will not dwell on it too
    long. However, forgive me if I go on and on. I was so excited I couldn’t restrain myself.
    Forgive my English too as my brain is becoming a little confused living with all the
    different languages, that is English, Spanish, Portunhol (a mix of Portuguese and
    Spanish) and Portuguese. Now they are all mixed up in my sailing brain.

    The entrance to the canal in the Caribbean side is in a place that God forgot, named
    Colon. I couldn’t tell you how bad that place is. It looks like the plague, a war, a
    hurricane, everything had happened there and nothing had been done to clean it up.
    Crime is very high and we were told by everybody we met before arriving there,
    including local people, not to go anywhere except with a trusted taxi or some sort of
    hired security. The agent that Russell had hired to do all the paper work necessary to
    go across the Canal, Tina MacBride (hey, this lady is fabulous, a fireball), sent
    someone that works with her to take care of us. We met him, Dracula, yes that is his
    nickname, in the harbor at Colon. He is a tall, dark Panamanian man, and was dressed
    in black. I am not joking. I have to say that at first I was little uneasy to call him Dracula
    and it took a while for him to warm us to us.  Anyway, we all piled up in his little car and
    he took us to the bank to pay the Canal fees, to an ATM machine to get cash and then
    to a supermarket so we could get provisions. Except for Dracula’s driving, we felt safe
    as we rode around because we had him with us.

    We spent the next 2 days in Portobelo as I told you in my previous e-mail, waiting for
    our crossing date. On Saturday morning we motored back to Colon as there was no
    wind we couldn’t put the sails up. Coming into the harbor, I was amazed by the number
    and size of the cargo ships and tankers coming in and out of the port in a constant
    string. The port is very busy because of all the traffic going through the Canal. I took
    lots of pictures of those giant ships, and I couldn’t take my eyes from them.

    On Saturday afternoon, we still had papers to take care of in Colon, and a few things
    to do in the boat to get it ready for the Canal. Jerry and I went to the supermarket to
    get more provisions. I didn’t like the idea to go out in that town again but Dracula was
    there to protect us. With him we felt safe. This feeling of safety was taken away later
    when he told us that he had been robbed 3 times, one time by the guy that lives next
    door to his daughter.

    Our crossing was scheduled for Saturday night. We did not want a night crossing
    because of weather and because we wanted to see it at daylight. We were given no
    choice so at 6:30PM we motored the Free Spirit out of the harbor to the area called
    “the flats”, about 2 miles from the entrance to the Canal. There we waited for the agent
    that the Canal Authority was to send to guide us during the crossing. The skies had
    the big, black, clouds and lightening started to fire up. Light rain started to fall as we
    waited. We were very anxious, except for Dracula who sat and looked bored, as each
    of us knew what to do, learned through the books we read, but still were a bit
    apprehensive. I had butterflies in my stomach, and I wished I had not eaten too much

    Dracula took a seat in the back and turned his portable radio on and enjoyed his
    favorite Panamanian music, while we were wandering when our agent was going to
    show up. That took place about 8PM. He inspected our lines, and gave us a few
    directions on how to proceed with the handling of the lines. The boat has to be
    secured to the sides of the locks by 4 lines and we had to manage the lines properly
    because as the water fills up the lock the lines slack and the boat can hit the walls of
    the lock. 4 line handlers are needed, so Jerry, Dick, Dracula, Theresa and I were
    assigned our positions. Theresa and I were going to work together one of the lines
    and Russell had to steer the Free Spirit. We were told to watch out for the lines that
    the guys on the dock would throw to us because these had a heavy weight on the end
    and they could knock us hard. More butterflies in my stomach. We waited and waited,
    trying not to listen to the music coming from Dracula’s radio, which none of us
    particularly liked, and by 9PM we were notified that there was a delay and that we had
    to wait one more hour. Luckily the rain stopped and so did the lightening.

    It was almost 10PM when we finally entered the first lock, right behind a 500 foot cargo
    ship, which is one of the smallest ones. Then a huge, solid, massive door closed
    behind us. It was eerie, The door was like one of those medieval castles gates. Water
    started to fill the chamber e pretty soon we had been elevated about 25 feet, all the
    time handling our lines, which we did perfectly. It was easier than we were told.
    We had no idea of what was happening in front of us because of the huge ship in
    front. It took the whole width of the lock. After the doors in front were opened, we
    moved into the 2nd lock. This way we went through the 3 locks and by 11PM we were
    up 85 feet above the Caribbean sea level and out in a huge lake called Gatun Lake.
    Everything went very smoothly and we were still full of adrenaline, however we had to
    get some sleep as we were told to be ready by 6:30AM for the next part of the
    crossing. I didn’t worry too much about the time as I knew by then what Panamanian
    time is. However I woke up really early by the noise of the monkeys they call howler
    monkeys. They are true to their name. We didn’t see them as the forest was very thick.

    We were all ready and waiting for our new agent who arrived by 8AM. He was a nice
    Portuguese man who has been living in Panama for 10 years. Again we waited for OK
    to go and about 9AM we lifted anchor and started motoring through the most beautiful
    lake I have ever seen. The forest around us was beaufiful, lots of sea birds and we
    even saw a crocodile. It was so relaxing that we forgot about the next series of locks
    ahead of us. We learned by then that there was a web camera in the Miraflores locks
    so I started sending text messages in my cell phone to my sister Marta in Brasil so she
    could see us going thru as well as the rest of my family. Everybody else started calling
    their loved ones and there was a flurry of text messages between Marta and I as our
    arriving time at Miraflores kept being delayed.
    As we motored slowly towards Miraflores I made scrambled eggs and toast for
    breakfast. We also had some of the big papayas and mangoes. It was a beautiful
    sunny day and the glassy waters were reflecting the forest around us.

    Going through the Canal I thought so much of my Dad and some of my brothers. My
    father would have absolutely loved to have seen that massive structure and how it
    worked. I was kind of sad that I didn’t know how remarkable the Canal is so I could
    have brought him there. The most amazing thing to me was the fact that the Canal was
    built more than 100 years ago.

    It was after 12PM when we finally started our entry into the lock. This time instead of
    going up we were going down to the Pacific sea level. After going through all the locks
    finally 2 massive gates opened up and there we were, in the Pacific. We were happy,
    exhilarated and glad that we hadn’t failed our Captain. We handled the lines perfectly
    and the Free Spirit came out without a dent. And, we didn’t get hit in the head. I just
    wished that we had our loved ones with us, specially that Russell had Kya (his lovely
    mate), Kristy and Sean (his great kids) to share the experience with us. One day I am
    sure he will do it all over with them.

    We said good-bye to Jorge, the Canal Authority agent, and to Dracula. They provided
    us a good service.  Then we said Hello to Tina MacBride, the lady that had arranged
    our papers. But this is a whole different story.

    I hope I have not bored you, just skip the whole thing if you want. And look at the

    My Aloha to you all

    PS. Granny, please forward this to Karen and Ron.
    Uncle Walla, please send this to the gang. I haven’t found any great mangoes yet.
    Some are very tasty but have fiber. We are anchored off a small island and we went
    ashore yesterday. I found many huge mango trees, full o ripe mangoes. Tried 2 kinds,
    delicious, but full of fiber. Some other fruit that I have no idea what it is. Afraid to try
    because here is not like our Hawaii nei where we don’t have poisonous things.

Updated: Jan.14, 2008