Saturday, June 21, 2008
Gary’s first Canal Transit
We were very lucky to get a mooring at the Panama Canal Yacht Club. Med mooring with a big back yard for Doc. Gary had an opportunity to do a transit with the S/y Skylax with Captain Rod and first mate Lu. It was a great experience and a good idea to do your first transit on someone else’s boat before taking your own thru. And what I learned is that it is all about the timing…and the pilot is late for it all! Making it 1am before completing the first three up locks…it was quite easy, the key is having line handlers who can pull in the line or let it out corresponding with the flow in/out of the lock. After spending the night on Gaton Lake the early morning transit (7am) became more like leaving at 9am ‘cause that’s when the pilot showed up…but no hassle or worry as long as they are well fed. As long as you can make 8 knots (that’s the regulation, the reality was more like 5 kts) but no worries mate! We arrived to brisk headwinds in Panama and the anchorage of Balboa was not inviting in any way. The 2 hour bus ride back to Cristobel/Colon was exciting to say the least…involving a brutal physical attack, the army and police and a screaming woman…to make a long story short… be very careful in Panama!
This is one of those places that few boats stop at. We were the only boat most of the time here, except the two days that Hocus Pocus stopped by. We walked around the island and not much there, no shells, no beach glass. This anchorage is just 8 miles east of Colon and a perfect anchorage. We had wind from the north and the south and no problems. No bugs and good holding and good swimming for Doc.
When we were last here, it was Black Christ Festival and there were thousands of people here, now it is a quiet relaxed and safe place. We needed some provisions and dog food especially. Stocked up while anchored on the town side and then moved over by the yellow house on the opposite shore. Climbed a couple of the forts and enjoyed great pizza at the Drake restaurant.
Back to visit the monkeys. Yes they are still there and looking for handouts. I have been told that they are howler monkeys and that the owner of the island, Mr. A Bartel, has in the past introduced many injured animals to this island. Animals that would not survive in nature but do all right here. He is said to have purchased iguanas from locals that were selling them for food. The locals damage their leg tendons and if released would not live long in the wild. The island has spider monkeys also that do not come down from the interior.
On this visit, Kaija actually spotted three scarlet macaws flying over to the island from the mainland. And there is another story here. The gentleman, who owns the home with the terra cotta home and walkways, is also trying to preserve some of the wild birds in the area. You will hear them if you anchor here. He is helping increase the genetic pool of many species and the bird are not caged but do return to the roost he has created for them. He rescues birds that have been confiscated by customs agents and tries to help in many other ways. So, in this small area, two people are trying to help with nature and giving back lives to many creatures that would otherwise be killed to extinction.
We were told this was not a place to go, nothing there but mangroves. OK, we will continue to tell that story because it was a perfect spot. S/v Dragonfly, Rick and Cindy were there when we arrived. We had the place to ourselves. No bugs, two beautiful islands to walk around and look for hamburger beans and beach glass. Shells are few. The one island – cay has a lodge on it, Wally Lodge. The two gentlemen working there, Augusto and Sebastian, became friends and Gary’s coffee partners in the morning. They allowed us to use the hammocks on beach, and walk and swim around their cleared area. They cooked for themselves, but when there were guests staying in the cabins, a cook was brought in.
The supply ulu s stops by with fresh fruits and vegetables and other things. We mentioned to Sebastian that we needed eggs and he had his friend stop by and took our order and the next day, we had everything we asked for. Couple of other local Kuna also sold fish.
Again a place we had been before and there were only two other boats here, Wooden Shoe and a power CAT Dedalus. But before we left a few days later there were two more Canadian boats, one from Vancouver and also a Telus employee, the other was out of Abbotsford. Small world. A nice get together was held on shore, and even Peter off s/v Golden and his charter joined us. This was the boat that last fall, had been hit by lightning twice in one month. Doc always enjoys this place because there are five islands for him to swim to and explore. The wind was a steady 14 knots so the water was a little rough but swimming was still good.
This was our second time here. Just as beautiful and quiet as the first time. No sharks this time. The breeze was steady, the snorkeling at the “SEA GLASS” cay was clear and there was glass to be found. Only one or two small pieces of blue were found.
If you need a place to rest, to stage out of, this is the place.
These two cays are very close to each other and the mainland. We first anchored off Uastupu – great coral heads and would have been nice to snorkel, but too rolly.
So we stayed the one night and moved over to the area by the water tower off Mamitupu. The villager that had come out to collect their fee had said this was the better of the two areas to anchor in, he was right.
We watched every morning as the local men went to the mainland to work their “farms”. They would come back later in the day with plantains, coconuts, bananas and sometimes fish. They did not try to sell to us but if we called them over, they were happy to provide things we wanted. – for reasonable fees. One gentleman that came out, introduced himself as Pablo Nunez Perez, and spoke very good English. He had his grandson with him and was promoting coconut soap (nicely wrapped in traditional Kuna fabric) and part of the proceeds went towards the children’s education. This was a person I had wanted to meet and we arranged to meet him the next day on shore. Pablo gave us a tour of the village, introduced us to the second chief, his family and his mother. While at his mother’s home, he had his sister demonstrate how they make the coconut oil and the soap and we were allowed to take pictures, but not his mother. She was very shy.
During our visit, I asked about Senor Martinez, who carved small ulu replicas. Pablo located him and we visited with the 83 year old man, who no longer carves as his eyesight has failed him. We learned how the village had been moved from the mainland 72 years earlier and that he had lived here all his life. On first moving from the mainland, there were 10 families with a total of 60 people and now there were about 1200 souls living on the island.
We were able to purchase eggs, and Kuna bread, and the coastal trade boats stop here to buy the coconuts and they also purchase aluminum cans – pop or beer. So if you go here, save your cans to give to the Kuna instead of throwing them away.
Pablo and his wife run a small hotel at one end of the island and here is the web site:
The airport is a short walk on the mainland side and comes every day at 7 am.
This was a lovely stop just east of the island of Caledonia. We anchored outside of one of the many cays here and just missed the channel that would have taken us into an inner bay. But great anchorage and the scenery was marvelous. These cays are just west of where the first Scottish settlement was established in the 1700’s. It did not survive and many souls were lost. Also a point in history, Caledonia is where the first American expedition to find a ships channel was started in 1853. It is hard to believe that by looking at the profile of the mainland here, that is all mountains, it was thought that they could build a canal. We enjoyed exploring the many cays by dinghy – great places for Doc to explore and Kaija to look for shells, hamburger beans and sea glass. Not a lot of success but good times.
The Kuna village at Caledonia sent out a representative to collect a small fee and explain some of their rules. We were not to be approached by the villagers and they asked not to give candy to the children. There was also a fee if you went into the village.