Pedro Miguel Boat Club - Panama Canal
Here it is March
and we are still here at Pedro Miguel Boat Club partway through
the Panama Canal. When we arrived at Pedro Miguel in January, we
thought only to stay a couple of weeks. Even with my trip to Ft.
Lauderdale, even with all the stuff I brought back, we were pretty
close to being ready to move on after three weeks.
But then Don
went to turn on the standby propane tank, and gas gushed from the
valve. Needless to say the parts for these American non-standard
tanks and valves aren't available here, and, since the tanks are
twenty years old, the prudent thing seemed to be to order two new
ones. Of course
they weren't in stock.
Once you are
waiting, it's easy to wait for more stuff, so our second thought
list expanded substantially. Mike, who still has several weeks of
recovery time to wait out in Ft. Lauderdale, has been running all
over kingdom come tracking down these things for us. Then there
was the autopilot whose idiosyncrasies we decided we had time to
get checked out, only that led to sending it to New Hampshire for
warranty work! Yikes, how things multiply!
shipments but the autopilot (thanks to the winter storm in the northeast)
have arrived. We are making preparations to leave next week, mid-week
to the weekend, most likely. (There's a chance Tiffany may arrive
in time to down lock to the Pacific with us!) Check your emails
regularly from Tuesday March 13th on if you want to catch us on
your computer in the Miraflores Lock camera. We'll email out our
scheduled time as soon as we get it.
delay has given us more time for both Panama and the Pedro Miguel
Boat Club. Although we did not take the long-weeked trip to Boquete
we talked about (reports were of chill rain), we did make a day
trip to El Valle in the mountains of Coclé Province. El Valle's
Sunday market draws visitors from all over Panama, which led us
to anticipate something sprawling, which it was not. Indeed it was
quite small!. We did find some treasures and some nice vegies, plus
we split two giant bags of juice oranges and grapefruits among three
boats, but it's a long drive for just that.
the market, however, we went on to the Hacienda El Nispero, a pleasant
zoo in a garden setting, which gave us a chance to get an up-close
look at a bunch of Panama's exotic animal and bird life, including
tapirs, agouti, ocelots, sloths, monkeys, alligators, ibis, toucan,
pheasants, parrots, macaws
..even Panamas' gold spotted, poison-arrow
frogs. No jaguars or cougars, however.
Don and I also
indulged in a "canopy adventure" wherein we donned a harness
and gloves and, clipped to a pulley on a cable we slide through
the treetops. Can we say, "Wheeeee!"? It's billed as a
way to view the special ecology of the rainforest canopy, but really
it's an amusement park ride. It all happens way too fast to look
for flora and fauna. Yachties are notoriously tight with a nickel,
so our compadres dampened our enthusiasm for the $40 experience.
However when we stopped by, a shortened version could be had for
$10@, and not only did we have a thrill, we believe it was the highlight
for those who watched. Don was ready to go for the whole ride then
and there, and we probably should have, because we missed the segment
over the waterfall!!! Fortunately, we'll have another opportunity
up in Costa Rica.
Nearer at hand our morning walks have turned us into novice birders.
Our walks generally take us south or north along the rail bed of
the Panama railroad, which is currently being reconstructed. Hawkeye
Don can see details of tiny birds a hundred feet away, but a small
pair of field glasses has done wonders for me. We have not been
the only walkers/birders out there, so we stop as often to compare
notes as to study birds. We'd have to confess it was the four Keel-billed
Toucans in the one tree that really hooked us. Four Toucans! In
the wild! They and the exotic little Black-crowned Night Heron that
landed up close on some
dock lines along with the pair of swooping Fork-Tailed Flycatchers.
Our most recent thrill was a female Anhinga. It's just like fish-watching,
only they move faster. My "tiny bird" list will never
Club itself is an interesting and comfortable place, with cruisers
coming from East and West, plus a few who've been here awhile. One
interesting pair is Nancy and Kaci, the captain and mate of Tethys.
Nancy is about to complete her second circumnavigation and Kaci
her first. They teach world cruising to women guests who sign on
for various legs of the trip. (For info and schedule email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Craig Owings, the commodore here, is a character of wide ranging
knowledge, who is busily prepping his CSY Pogo to return the cruising
life after 14 years in Panama. His wife, Sarah was the first woman
Panama Canal pilot. She made her last trip through last week, and
as her ship cleared the Pedro Miguel Lock, all the yachties lined
up on the docks here to salute her with every noisemaker at hand!
The Canal, of course, dominates the experience. It is easy to sit
here awhile - watching ships of all descriptions and nationalities
come and go all day (even at night) - and take the phenomenon of
the Canal for granted. David McCullough's The Path Between the Seas,
a thoroughly absorbing history of the creation of the Panama Canal,
however, puts every inch of what we see into perspective. Its construction
spanned 44 years, absorbing millions of dollars and affecting the
politics of several nations - France, United States and Colombia.
It was built in a period of such great engineering and scientific
leaps forward that the achievement
was truly heady for all. Today, it is functionally the same canal
it was when it opened in 1914 and really it is just as marvelous.
Not only should no one take the existence of the Panama Canal for
granted, but no one should take its smooth operation for granted
either. Most of the yachties make several trips through the canal
as line handlers for friends before and after transiting on their
own, as we have. Although every time is different, usually with
some distinctive adrenaline moments, on the whole the system works.
On Friday, March 2, it didn't work for our friend John on Nepenthe
and a Swiss couple on a Dufour 47 called Antares Royale. While uplocking
in the Gatun locks, side-tied to a Canal tug, the tug's stern line
came loose (somehow?) and the whole raft-up swung into the stern
of the huge freighter in the lock in front of them. John's boat
was nearly driven under the surface and both boats were violently
dismasted. It was the first serious incident involving a sailboat
in fifteen years! The good news is, incredibly, that no one was
hurt. Equally incredible is that the Canal appears to be accepting
responsibility. It will not get cleared up overnight, though, for
sure. Both boats came to Pedro Miguel yesterday, Antares under her
own power, Nepenthe lashed to a pilot boat. There is nothing more
sobering to see than hurt cruising boats, for it is not just the
physical plant that is injured, it's the souls, the dreams and the
plans of her owners.
As I said at the top, we are pretty much ready to go. The lockers
are bursting with provisions, and Don's "To Do List" is
almost empty! On to the Pacific!