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Panama, Colon, Anchorage - "The Flats", May 4-12  2006    by Dagmar

The preparation for the Channel passage  

What a big difference to the wonderful surrounding nature at San Blas Islands. Next to the "Flats", the waiting anchorage for the Panama Channel, the biggest ships are passing thru, direction to the first lock of the Panama Channel. Fully loaded with containers and all kinds of other supplies. Some big cruise-ships are passing thru, too.

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  The most disturbing thing here at the "Flats" is, that we are right next to the dump, where they are burning all of Colons rubbish, including plastic and things we don't want to know. "Luckily", they are just doing it during the night. Mostly because of the lack of wind, the whole "Flats" are then covered in a grayish yellow thick cloud. Its soo stinky, we had to close the windows during the night...no fresh air to sleep. 

We got really busy with all the preparations for the Channel passage. We needed 8-10 tires to cover the sidewalls of the LUNA. Luckily a sailing boat came thru the Channel from the Pacific side the following day and anchored at the "Flats" right next to us. They were happy to give us their tires. The long ropes you need for the line-handling, we already bought in Holland. 

Now we had to find 3 extra adults for doing the line-handling, while we were going thru the channel. Normally sailing boats are passing the locks tight together as a raft with one or two more boats. With the line-handling all the boats are helping each other. So we did line-handling for the "Zeferin", with Joan, Sandy and their friend Warrick some days before we were supposed to go thru. Joan is 70 years, Sandy 75 years. They are from New Zealand and sailing around the World since 6 years, an amazing and brave couple. They have lots of interesting stories to tell.

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It was a excellent opportunity for us to see what to expect, when we are going thru the Channel. 

The boat crew of the "Uhuru", Andy and Rudi, presented us to Chris from Iowa, traveling thru South America, who wanted to help line-handling and experience the Channel. He would like to join us with his girlfriend Eef, Dutch, working as an Intern for the UN in Panama City. We completed our line-handling crew when we found Liza from Sweden, a brave woman who sailed her boat all by herself from Sweden to Panama. So including myself we were a crew of 4 line-handlers + the captain Bart, that are the requirements from the Channel Authorities. 

After filing all the paperwork , the measuring of the boat and our payment for the passage, they told us the day we would go thru will be May 12th in the late afternoon. So after arriving from San Blas Islands on May 4th, we just waited 8 days. We were really lucky, because most of the other boats waited already for 2-3 weeks. From our arrival on they speeded it up a lot, maybe to many people complained about the long waiting period. It's getting later in the season and that makes it less safe to cross the Pacific's when you had to wait even longer.


The Panama Channel Passage, May 12   2006      by Dagmar

That's the day!!! The LUNA is ready, all tires are on the outside of the LUNA for protection. We will be building a raft with our friends from "de Pelikaan" going thru the channel. We are really excited. At 4pm Bart is picking up our "line handlers" Chris and his girlfriend Eef at the Yacht Club. Liza our 3rd "line handler" comes on board after 7pm. 

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Then we are all ready waiting for the channel-adviser to come on board. It's all a little bit delayed. But he, Alex,  arrives at 8pm. We put up the anchor ready to go, crossing the big shipping lane and staying on the starboard side of the channel entrance. Alex told us that we are scheduled for 10pm to go thru the first lock. But there is a delay, too, therefore we anchor close to the lock and are going thru at 11pm, towed together with "de Pelikaan". 

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Chris and I are doing the line handling in the front, Eef and Liza in the back. When you've entered the lock, two guys from the side wall of the lock are throwing "monkey balls", one for the front and one for the back of the boat. This are lines with an attached ball, so they are heavy enough to reach the line handlers on the boats. We have to connect them to our lines and like this they pull them over to tie them at the boulder on top of the lock wall. 

The first three locks of the Channel are rising us up 26 meters over sea level to "Lago Gatun", the Gatun Lake. We need a lot of coordination and force with the line handling, as the water rises very fast in the locks. After 1am we are leaving the last look, all tired. We have to motor to get to the buoy on the lake, where we stay for the night. The pilot boat picks up Alex the adviser and will be back in the early morning with the next advisor. Its 2am. We just have a drink and are all going to bed. Chris is already in bed since an hour with heavy stomachache. 

The howler monkeys are waking us up in the morning. You can't see them. Sounds really scary. We go for a short swim in the sweet water lake, watching out for the crocodiles, but they are mostly on shore. Then Frank, the next advisers enters the boat. We have to motor for 4.5 hours now over Gatun Lake before we reach the last 3 locks. 

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Chris stays the whole day in bed with diarrhea and a headache. Poor guy and its a really hot day. Around midday we enter the "Pedro Miguel lock". Dark rain clouds are waiting for us and its poring rain, thunder and lightning, while we are in the lock, all soaking wet. But we are having fun, the "Girls Line handling Crew". 

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Eef is now assisting me with the line handling in front. But its way easier to go down in the locks, the water drops slowlier, then up, as we did in the night. Then we have to cross "Lago Miraflores", a small lake, for a short time before we reach the last two locks. We call our families to tell that there's a web cam on the tower next to the last lock. Maybe they can see us. At 2 pm we are in the last lock all waving towards the web cam, all the kids on the boats are jumping. Must be funny to see. 

Now the lock opens to the Pacific side of the Channel. What an important moment for us. We motor to the mooring of the Balboa Yacht Club and our line handlers are leaving with the transfer boat to shore. Thank you very much to Liza, Eef and Chris for helping us to get thru the Channel and all the fun we had on board. 

An American couple, Neal Doten and his wife, are making digital pictures from the restaurant tower while we are passing the channel. I talk to them when we are getting diesel, while we are at the dock of the Balboa Yacht Club. They offer to send them to us. We can leave the tires at the dock ,too, for a fee of $1.- each. Then we leave for the anchorage at Flamenco Bay, just 2 miles up the coast. From there you can see Panama City and still the dark clouds from the bad weather hanging over the skyline.

Other boats we already know are anchoring in the Flamenco Bay too: our friends on "de Pelikaan", Andy and Rudi from the "Uhuru" and Cathy, Pascal and Salome' from the "Saudade". We are soo proud...that we came thru the Panama Channel. 

This big locks were an amazing experience for us. You always heart about them, now we were part of it. I always had to think about the German book author "Janosch", who writes stories about a bear and a little tiger and they find a box, were its written on " Panama", and they say "in Panama it smells like bananas". The first time, when we went thru the locks with the "Zeferin" to practice for our line handling, we had a huge "Chiquita Banana Freighter" in front of us in the lock.



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