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.