From Trinidad to Panama.
I had written a daily account but for some reason it seems to have disappeared from the start of leaving Trinidad to the day of going through the Panama Canal. So, unless I can recover it, here is a leg by leg blog from Trinidad to Panama in a short version as best I can remember.
Trinidad to Bonaire.
With a crew of only John to begin with, we left the mooring to fuel up and spend the last of the TT dollars. Having left the ‘Dragon’s Mouth’, sails were raised and we initially headed towards Grenada, keeping well away from Venezuela, reports of attacks from pirates being the order of the day. Winds were good, gusts over 24kts on occasions and swell of 2 - 3m. Squalls and rain made the passage interesting. We arrived in Kralendijk, picked up a mooring buoy and waited for the next crew to arrive, Wally and Fred (Farida). I think I upset Fred when I told her that I was getting over Covid! We spent 3 days in Bonaire and I replaced the engine batteries. I also had to fault find why the starboard engine failed. The earth grounding wire to the engine had come adrift from the ring eye and I replaced that. We also had another problem. John had carried out a ‘WOBBLE’ test on both engines but had failed to open the sea cock and the engine overheated. Could have been a very expensive replacement, in the end it was a £35 water impeller that was replaced.
Bonaire to Curaçao
We anchored in Spanish Waters, a large safe bay but not very clear water. We took the tender to the shore the following morning to clear in. A bus journey into town and then an awfully long walk to get to the customs office. It took ages to get processed, the best part of a day and we still had immigration to see. I decided that we would clear in AND out at the same time as I couldn’t stand a repeat of this. In the end we got a taxi back to town to the immigration office. The only good thing about Curaçao, delicious street food and very reasonably priced. Back by bus to the bay and a drink on board. Fred had decided that she would leave the boat in Aruba and head back home. She was missing her grandchildren and sailing wasn’t really her passion.
Curaçao to Aruba.
If only clearing in / out was as easy as Aruba. We had arrived very early so we went up and down the coastline until daylight. Then we found the entry passage to customs. Met by a very helpful lady who was pleased to see us. Within the hour we had cleared in with both customs and immigration and headed to the marina, Renaissance Marina, Barcadero. We hadn’t got anything booked but found a space and took it. It was carnival weekend so everything was closed until Monday so we knew we weren’t going to be told to leave, at least not until Monday. A walk through the town you could see that there were parts that were very expensive and some just slightly cheaper, but not by much. A beer, £11! so we had a couple. We went out for an evening meal to an Argentinian restaurant. The food was great but the prices were ridiculously high. Mind you, the next night we went out for a meal wasn’t much cheaper! We stayed for five nights before running out of money.
Aruba to Panama
We knew that the passage from Aruba to Panama was going to be windy as I had downloaded the PredictWind forecast. My brother was also giving a commentary about the Barranquilla area and how nasty this could be. Yes, we did have winds exceeding 35kts and huge seas. We also recorded the highest speed of the whole passage to date, and unlikely to be passed. During one of Wally’s shifts, he surfed down the front of a wave and recorded a speed of 20.9kts! Not really what you want to do but the seas were not so huge that you fell off the crest of the wave and went headfirst into the trough. This was all done under the genoa sail, again, not the way the sails should be used. Anyway, after 3.5 days we finally arrived in Panama and sort out a mooring in Shelter Bay marina. This was to be our resting and repair place until we got passage through the Panama Canal. Also, we were expecting two more crew to arrive, Karen, John’s wife who had sailed with me last year from St. Martin to Trinidad, and Cedric, who had crewed with me many times before. Wally and I got down to work on the boat, Wally the electrician and me, the spanner holder who frequently had to go up the mast. I had a leak in the stbd escape hatch window which needed sealing. I asked the marina staff to carry out the repair and they did, but not very well, as it started leaking again after some big seas. Wally sorted out the radar and SSB radio installation while I made brackets for these. Again, I had asked the marina for a quote for the brackets. They came back with a silly price, using off cuts of previously used metal. I wasn’t going to be ripped off so found the metal myself. I also wanted to replace the house batteries. Ray the technician facilitator, got me a price but also wanted a back hander for organizing it. He never got the back hander, I never got the batteries!
Shelter Bay marina (Panama Canal north)
La Playita marina (Panama Canal south)
Up very early, 03:15 as we needed to be in the Shelter bay by 04:30 as our pilot was expected at 05:00. The pilot finally arrived at 06:10, and instructions were given as to the formalities for going through the canal. We were to be rafted up to another catamaran and would go through the first set of three locks behind a large car transporter vessel. It took a couple of hours to complete the first set of locks and then it was a fast motor across Gaton Lake to get to the next three locks. These locks were not connected but had about 1nm between each lock. Once through we uncoupled from the raft and headed for La Playita bay, dropping the anchor for the night.
Cedric, who was feeling unwell the previous day took a Covid test which showed positive. Not the best of starts. John and Karen go off to get the provisions, trying to ensure we have sufficient to get us to the Galapagos (without purchasing ‘banned food’ (!) but also getting tinned stock for the onward trip to the Marquesas, some 30 day passage from the Galapagos. Cedric left to explore Panama City, which left Wally and I back on the boat.
Another crew goes down with Covid. John woke up this morning feeling under the weather. The test results were positive. Not a great start to the day for him but only to be expected as Cedric was infectious. Several jobs to do on the boat, the main one, giving the boat a good clean. As we approached the marina a couple of days ago the boat was covered in ash from a fire just outside the canal. Black soot was everywhere.