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Party Time

Before the morning SSB net was over John and I headed ashore. I had a date with our agent, Laurent, as he had received a letter containing my bank card. Our old one had expired and we really needed this one. Once we had this we headed off to the Carrefour to pick up some beer for the evening. The local beers had an offer going where the price for 20 was reduced. We picked up 40 bottles only to find the offer was over. I figured what the hell and bought them all anyway. John picked up some Magnum ice cream for a birthday present.

Back on the boat we go into the business of stuffing the beers away into all corners of the fridge and freezer. Later in the morning Helen cooked up an artery busting fry up for brunch which we followed up with the intensely chocolaty magnums.

We spent the afternoon cleaning the boat up and then reanchoring (four times) as we were a little too close to one of the other boats. The anchor seemed to have a lot of trouble setting. We were in 60 feet of water so we weren’t lifting it up off the bottom each time. At one point I asked Helen to raise the anchor out of the water just to make sure we still had one.

At 6pm the evening’s festivities began. We had invited the folks from A Cappella, Bristol Rose, Callisto, Imagine, Inn for Penny II, Inspiration Lady, Leu Cat, Lilith, Sea Mist, Song Line & Whoosh for a combined birthday (for me)/farewell (for John) party. Helen had been concerned about the boat being too crowded but in the end we comfortably held 27 people aboard without people having to spill forward. The weather remained perfect for the evening. With that many people it was impossible to chat to everyone but everyone seemed to have a good time.

About half way through Helen called for quiet so the ladies could enact a scheme they’d come up with (inspired I understand by Sheilah from Imagine). They had put on fresh lipstick and in turn they each sang to me then kissed me somewhere on the face. I ended up, of course, with lots of marks on my face.

The evening went very well. It was good for John to meet up again with a few of the folks he’s got to know. For us, it may be almost the last time we see a few of these folks. Out of Tahiti everyone is heading towards Bora Bora but from there they’ll head off in different directions and on different timetables. While we wait here in Tahiti for the next two weeks, many will move on and we may never catch up. Those going to New Zealand we’ll see but those on their way, like Whiskers, to Australia will be too far ahead of us. However, we’ll meet some new people who are on the trail behind us which will be good.

Helen and I are looking at the various anchorages around Tahiti so we have an idea of what to do over the next couple of weeks. Things are going a bit crappy with some of our internet orders. If we can sort these out we can get out of here the day after John leaves.

Pape’ete, Tahiti – first day in

Tahiti at this time of year is very much a geographical and temporal convergence for cruising sailors. Geographically, Tahiti is a stopover for almost every boat crossing the Pacific as there is nothing for thousands of miles north or south. Timewise there is the Puddle Jump rendezvous which is attracting a lot of boats. As a result, we’re seeing many of our friends that we’ve met along the way. Most boats are at the free anchorage (100 boats we hear) past the airport. We’ve opted to pay for the town quay where there are currently 20-30 boats. Amongst them are Imagine, Curious, Inspiration Lady, Callisto, Anthem, Whoosh. Last night InnForAPenny II arrived.

Our first chore ashore was to walk to the Port Captain’s office and pay for our berth. We had tied up to a vacant slot in the finger quays. It turned out this slot was reserved for a day charter cat and we had to move to a semi-circular area nearby next to a park. We were charged the same despite reduced facilities and no security. As a result we did at least get a guard overnight. Later John and I went out to visit the tourist office and pick up ice creams. Not had a Mr Whippy in months (behave yourselves).

Next our Code Zero arrived delivered by Laurent from Pacific Yacht Services. He had to dash but he did leave us with a map showing us where we could get propane. We obtained instructions on how to dinghy to the propane station so John and I dinghied across the harbour, tied to a fishing dock, crawled through a hole in a fence and went over to the propane place. It was closed. We had to return in the morning.

After some more internetting we went out. First stop was the supermarket where we picked up some beer and cheese as well as researching prices. We dropped the supplies off back on the boat and headed down the road to where we heard we could pick up cheap Chinese food served from outdoor vendors in the park. There we bumped into Mike and Anne from Callisto with their daughter. Anne and the daughter had just arrived that day to join the boat for the trip to NZ. We ended up eating together and agreeing to drinks tonight.

By the end of the dinner we were pooped so it was back to Dignity for a cool beer and rest.

This morning was more parts ordering and chasing a misdelivered package as well as Skyping family. I’ve been back to the propane place and had two tanks filled. That’s a relief. A new problem is that a cash card from the Uk seems lost in the post or delayed. This is fixable but could cause a problem soon.

Anyway. Today we’ll be exploring the town some more probably looking into a lot of hardware stores to look for things we may need for the journey ahead.

Boat Cleaning and Trip to Colon

Today was another busy one. We started the day scrubbing the entire deck removing the last of the Cartagena grime. Around mid morning the admeasurer arrived to measure the length of Dignity and fill out the paperwork for our crossing. Later in the morning our agent, Enrique Plummer, arrived to collect our passports and boat papers to handle our immigration, clearance and canal booking.

There are a lot of so called agents who will help out for various fees. Enrique has a solid reputation and is consequently not the cheapest by far. Regardless, we felt in very safe hands.

I went into Colon with Enqrique for a couple of reasons. The first was to draw some cash from Citibank and the second to take our sail to the sail maker to see if it could be repaired.

I forgot the mention in yesterday’s blog that the trip from Shelter Bay to Colon takes about 45 min. Partly due to the distance and partly due to the fact that the road passes in front of the first of the Gatun locks which is invariably closed as ships need to pass through.

This time I remembered to bring my pocket camera to capture a few shots.

When we reached the port area the Citibank was opposite the port office so while Enrique handled the formalities, I went in to get the cash to pay him. I wanted to get cash to avoid paying the extra 5% credit card fee. Although the “Citibank” here looked like a Citibank and had the same logo it turned out I could only withdraw cash if I had a local account. What a load of b**l**cks. They didn’t even have an ATM to use. I was sent to the HSBC up the road who did have a cash machine. I duly went there, waited ages in line to have access to the machine and was refused on all my cards.

I explained the situation to Enqrique getting a little worried as both my credit cards had been refused the previous day at the supermarket. This is not atypical as there are many reasons a card won’t be accepted and only sometimes is it due to their being a block on the card. We decided to try another ATM in a nearby mall and have lunch there. This ATM was out of service. Reluctantly I tried one of my cards on Enrique’s portable machine and fortunately it worked. (I have since learned my one other card is in fact blocked which I can hopefully resolve today before we leave here)

In between all this we visited the sail maker. He felt the sail can be repaired for a modest fee if only we can provide the cloth. Enrique was happy to be go between and receive cloth sent from the US, get it to the sail maker and eventually collect the repaired sail and get it back to us at one end of the canal or the other based on timing.

After our late lunch Enrique dropped me off at the mall up the road which turned out to be the same mall we visited the day before. I tried the ATM there and was able to withdraw some cash. I’d withdrawn cash the previous day but had had to use it when my cards were declined so it was a relief to be able to get some more before we head off to the San Blas.

I caught the Shelter Bay bus back to the marina and bumped into Peter and Penny again from InnForAPenny II.

Back on the boat Helen was exhausted having completed the boat clean while I was running around Colon. We rested for a short while before Peter and Penny showed up with a jug of fruit punch. We spent a couple of hours around the boat before separating for evening meal and sleep.

The winds appear to have died down a little and the forecasts reflect this. We’ll be out of here today once we’ve sorted out the sail cloth, the blocked card, some preventative maintenance and a few other odds and sods.

Important note for close blog watchers: We’ve settle on our date for the canal crossing. We’ll be uplocking on Sunday January the 10th, staying the night on the lake then downlocking on the 11th. The precise time of our transit will not be known until much closer to the time. However, I know we will be uplocking the Gatun lock sometime (probably a few hours) after 16:00 local time, that’s 21:00GMT but no earlier. The very earliest we will downlock the Miaflores lock will be 13:00 local time, that’s 18:00GMT. If you have nothing better to do you can watch us go through the canal on the webcams at http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html

I will try my best to provide more precise timing if/when I can.

Shelter Bay

We had what I thought was a very exciting sail from our last anchorage to Shelter Bay marina. If we thought we’d been playing slalom with the tankers in the shipping lane it was now dodgems sailing into Colon bay. The bay is protected by a massive break wall and the entrance is marked with impressive markers. Sadly we took no pictures as we were concentrating on jibing the boat and more importantly avoiding the tankers coming in and out and jostling for position. In the end we timed it nicely by aiming broadside at a tanker entering the bay and jibing in behind it. It was a bit of a squeeze as the maneuver was based on our sailing slower than the tanker (which we were initially) but the tanker slowed down, presumably to comply with speed limits. We were catching it up through the entrance but were then able to veer off to starboard and get out of the lane. We then had to pick our moment for our final jibe to Shelter Bay marina as the bay was full of anchored tankers and we had to pick our line. To give you a sense of the trip, here is our track of our brief travels so far in Panama. If you zoom out you’ll see our passage from Cartagena.


View 2009 Panama1 in a larger map

The dock we were given at the marina had less than two feet clearance either side but we made it in ok and tied off. The morning then proceeded with talking with the agent, the sail maker and sorting out a few things with the kids on the internet. Helen started on cleaning the Cartagena grime from the boat.

At 1pm we took the bus over to the large Rey supermarket for hopefully our last provisioning trip. We have to assume we’ll get nothing bar lobsters and crab in the San Blas so we’re taking no chances. A large part of what we purchased yesterday were soft drinks and juices.

On the bus back to the Marina we met Penny and Peter from InnForAPenny II. They were a great help getting our supplies on and off the bus. They invited us over for drinks on their boat in the evening after we’d unpacked. That all took a bit longer than we expected and by the time we’d showered we arrived a bit late. We had a few bevvies on their boat before heading off to the marina restaurant together for an evening meal.

This morning I’ve managed to upload our past pictures. If you’re an active reader you’ll need to go back to see the last couple of slideshows.

We’ve decided to stay here one more day to avoid rushing. Also the weather doesn’t seem to be calming as soon as predicted so we want avoid a slog up the coast.