Friday, April 14, 2017

Transiting the Panama Canal

Yesterday we acted as line handlers on a Beneteau 35 as they went through the Panama Canal. It was an awesome experience it gave us the feel of what it would be like to take our own boat through . Having a intimate look at the process will greatly reduce our stress once it is our turn .  
In the first set of locks we came in behind a tanker and in the second set we were in front of a tanker. 

The trip takes a day and a half, from the east end you proceed through three locks, then you tie up to a big bouy and stay overnight. The next morning you motor through Gatun Lake , we reached the Pacific locks about 1500 hours . There are three locks there and then you are in the Pacific Ocean. 

The locks are huge, a big car tanker came in behind us in the second set of locks.  In order to expedite the process they hooked up three sailboats together.  We all rafted up together, on each boat there are six people, four line handlers, the captain who pilots the boat and the advisor who tells the captain where to go and instructs the line handlers. With three boats tied up together there were 18 people in close proximity to each other. We were on the port side of the floatilla so our boat was responsible for the lines to the left hand part of the canal. That meant that only two line handlers were needed , the other side of the boat was tied up t another, so I did not have a job and just got to observe and soak in the experience. I even managed to keep my bossy nature in check and not issue directions or even instructions to anyone, except Barry a few times!!
We started out late in the afternoon, so it was dark when we went through the first set of locks. 
We tied up to this large bouy overnight after the first series of locks. 
The hand liners on the sides of the dock throw a thin line with a big knot on the end to the boat, two lines from each side of the lock.  The boat line handlers tie the boat lines on to the thin lines and when you get to the position you are required to be in the lock the hand liners on the dock haul in the boat lines.
 The hand liners on the dock walk along the locks with the lines being careful the lines do not catch on the sides of the locks.  The first three locks you go up so the hand liners have to run up the stairs on the sides so they do not get the lines fouled.  For the tankers they have mules , cars which run on tracks which actually haul the tankers along the locks.  It was quite heart stopping to see the huge tanker bearing down on our small floatilla, knowing that it was supposed to stop but not entirely sure that it would. 
It is not a video, I just took a picture of the video footage Barry took. 
It was impressive when we went through the last lock. 
 I had a hard time believing that we were actually back in the Pacific Ocean after 9 years.  Even though it was not on our own boat I felt a real sense of accomplishment at getting there by water. I can imagine the feelings will be multiplied when we go through on May 5/6 on Cat's-Paw IV. 
The Bridge of the Americas and the Pacific Ocean in the background. 

Monday, April 10, 2017


Erick, the fellow between us , is our Columbian son. He stayed with us for a school year in 1994 in Yellowknife. He arrived in Canada with very little English and have no never seen snow before.  He told us he was so happy tand see his first snow fall, but was more than happy the see the end of it 9 months later!! Twenty years later and he is a dentist in his forties with a family, how times change.  He was good enough to take time out of his busy schedule and fly from Bogata to Cartagena to visit with us for the weekend. 
We went down to the local beach and rented a cabana for the day, it was too hot to sit on the beach without any shade. Barry and I felt like real tourists sitting in the shade drinking beer. 
We had a decent sail to Panama, just 48 hours, we had to motor the first 6 hours out of Columbia to get away from the wind shadow and then we had a very nice beam reach until we turned the corner into the entrance to the Panama Canal.  We are in Shelter Bay Marina which is just inside the breakwater which protects the Canal entrance.  We hired an agent to smooth our way through the Canal.  He came through with flying colours, within 24 hours our boat was measured, we paid our fees later that day and we were assigned our canal crossing date.   We were originally told it would be on April 28 but it has since been changed to May 5. We were much happier with the earlier date but we will have no problem making our flight on May 24 with the May 5 date. 
We had to go into Colon to clear Immigration, the marina operates a free bus into Colon twice a day, otherwise it is a $25 taxi ride.  The picture above is a typical street in Colon, now we know why we ere told it is not safe to walk around in the city. 
Our old friends from forty years ago Terry and Gerry Skopyk have a boat they keep here in Shelter Bay. They are here at the moment and they had been out touring the country so they had a car and we went to see San Lorenzo, the site of an old Fort.  It was so good to see them again and we had a great time renewing acquaintances over dinner aboard their boat last night.  Today we are gong to line handle on another boat today so we will go through the Canal with it.  We have to go aboard shortly and will sleep aboard and be back here tomorrow evening. 

Saturday, April 01, 2017


Walking around the old town in Cartagena is a joy. It is an explosion of colour and of old world charm. It is a World Unesco Cultural Heritage site so it is protected from change. Everywhere we noticed old buildings being restored.  It reminded us of Cuba, but the area is better preserved and cleaner than we noticed in Cuba. 
This is the main entrance into the old city, Cartagena was an area where African slaves were brought to Columbia so the descendants of the city have a lot of African blood in them and it is noticeable in their culture, the colours, the paintings and the dancing. 
We have been enjoying the sculptures and the wall art that we have come across in our wandering. 

The first day we took a tour to some of the historic sites in the area.  They were mostly the walled forts that were built in the 16th century to protect Cartagena from the sea and from the land.  The walls on the fortifications we enormous.
This is the Fort that protected the land and we were able to climb to the top and see the views and hear graphic tales about where all the attackers were killed.  The guides' English was sufficient but his vocabulary was not the best so the fact that they were all kill ed featured in his description several times. 
This was a bottleneck through the wallls and was designed so the soldiers at the top could see down whereas the attackers below could not see up so of course all the attackers were "kill ed".
Our second day wandering around in old town we came upon some Universities. This is the inner courtyard of the University of Cartagena, we think they were having an open house because we were able to wander around the campus and there were displays about the courses offered. 
This building was once a church but now houses a theatre. It was one of the many examples of outstanding architecture in the regions. 
We rested up in a KGB bar that had all sorts of memorabilia from Russia on display.  We spent some time watching the latest May Day parade in Red Square with Putin supervising. Barry was fascinated with the fancy planes that were flown over , I marvelled at the precision of the marching of the soldiers. 
The traffic is horrendous in the old town, the narrow winding streets result in gridlock at any given time.  The common practise of courteous driving has not come to Columbia and they squeeze into what ever lane they wish and bully their way through the traffic.  
When we saw this truck stall on a busy bridge Barry joked that this is what was needed to make your way through the gridlock!! Both the men in the vechicle turned away as I was taking a picture, we were surprised not to be yelled at!! 
The Columbians have four submarines and this one was in full view as it went by Barry as I was off trying to change some money we had left over from Curaçao. We had mistakenly thought that we could use the Curaçao money in Aruba but that was not so, it will be interesting to see where in the world we might be able to change it, they would not do it here. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


We are on our way to Columbia. We had a wonderful week with Mark and Lucy. It is amazing how family traits appear in cousins who were not raised together. Lucy has a healthy appetite that I have observed in most Langes. They love games and are good at them, Lucy is a fierce Scrabble player and the Ipad got a workout while she was here. Mark joined in the games in the evening, they taught us "chicken feet" a game with Dominoes which Barry enjoyed.  We also played some hotly contested games of dice, I wonder how many countries we have played that game in. 

One day we dinghied over to the island that we had seen the boat loads of people going back and forth to. We walked about 500 meters through the mangroves and discovered a resort beach.  On the leeward side of Aruba they had made some protected beaches, there were large sea water areas which had big boulders enclosing a swimming area. None of us had brought our cameras but the next day we sailed past it and took a shot. There was a couple of bars and a workout area as well as a beach tennis court. We felt like real tourists as we lounged on the chaises after a cocktail and a swim.  There were some gorgeous blue lizards as well as large green iguanas. We saw some flamingos that you could feed but by the time we came back and bought some food they had been put to bed for the night. 

The next day we motored about five miles south on the inside of the resort island, past the airport and the smelly , burning garbage dump to a great snorkelling spot.  Lucy, Mark and I jumped off the boat and saw some lovely coral and some great fish, meanwhile Barry was tending to the boat as we were unable to anchor in the coral. We tried to get in the southern entrance but it looked a little dicey so we sailed back to the airport anchorage for lunch. That evening Lucy and I made pizzas proving to Barry that our galley really is a two person galley. 
Here we are mid assembly, the finished pictures are on Mark's camera. It was wonderful to have some company aboard. We enjoyed the conversations, the sharing of family stories and our guests enthusiasm. Barry has never been very keen to have people on board, he feels the boat is too small and he values his privacy. The four of us get along well together and there was space to have a bit of quiet time if needed. We also managed to get through the week without opening the door to the head on anyone. 
The day Lucy and Mark checked into their timeshare we all took a taxi there. They got a lovely suite on the quiet, sunny side of the building, I had a jacuzzi tub and a shower using more water than all of us had used all week, what a luxury. We did our laundry, then Mark and Lucy treated us to a delicious dinner in the complex. We visited the casino later and managed to come out $2.25 ahead using our tried and true method of quitting while we were ahead.  It was a great spot and it would have been fun to visit and play bocce ball or ping pong but Columbia and Panama are calling so we left this morning. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Barry's first cousins n Lucy and her husband Mark are on board with us. They arrived last Thursday and we have been having a great visit ever since.  We anchored at the north end of the airport and the day they arrived we walked the half hour to the airport to meet them. It is a very busy anchorage with planes coming and going all day.  We have seen two planes pull up on final approach and flyby to return for another pass a few minutes later. There is also an island just to the southwest of us where tourist go to snorkel, zip line and eat and drink.  It is very busy at the end of the day with the boats taking the tourists back to the cruise ships. 
Lucy and Mark have been busy with their camera so we have not taken many shots ourselves. The day fester they arrived we sailed up to the north end of the island, about seven miles away and snorkelled on a wreck up there.  The marine life is not nearly as varied as it was in Bonaire. Mark and Lucy enjoyed the R and R and soaked up the heat and the sunshine.  Yesterday we took a taxi to the grocery store and when we returned there was not much room left in the dinghy so Barry took the supplies onboard while Lucy and I went for a walk down the beach. Barry had the inspired idea of having a picnic ashore so we had BBQ'd chicken with the trimmings on the beach and then went for a swim afterwards. 

Our good friends Jeremy and Kathy on Sal Darago showed up shortly after we returned to the boat. We knew they were n the area but did not think they would show up until today. Sundowners were consumed by all and the stories of four old salts flew around the cockpit. Jeremy and Cathy are on their way to San Francisco to visit their son who is living and working there.  
Lucy and Mark will be onboard until Friday when they have a timeshare. They have promised that we can come and have a big long hot shower once they are moved in.  I guess our new bigger shower bowl just does not cut the mustard. We will be heading to Columbia once we have a good weather window. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017


We are currently resident in the lagoon called Spaanse Water in Curaçao. It is a lovely protected anchorage, which is a good thing because the wind just howls most of the time.  We had to enter through a narrow passage way from the ocean and then it opened up into an amoeba shaped lagoon which has numerous shallow spots.  There are four different area for boats to anchor so there is lots of room.  During the day, wind surfers and sailors on little sunfish shoot around the area having a whale of a time and provided much viewing pleasure for us.  
The downtown area is a World Unesco Site so all the old buildings are protected and they are painted these beautiful lively colours.  The main harbour divides the island almost in two and the first bridge is a floating footbridge. When tankers come in the footbridge opens , it has it 's own locomoti n built into th end of the bridge. 

In the top picture the bridge is halfway open and the operator of the bridge is in the little hut at the end.  I was surprised to see that they allow pedestrians to be on the bridge when they open it.  If you are on the bridge you have to wait for it to open, a tanker to go through and then for the bridge to close before getting off. They are very civilized though and offer a free ferry service but as soon as the bridge has reconnected itself the ferry service stops and you have to walk around.  We saw this all the first day we arrived when we found Customs is on one side of the harbour and Immigration is on the other. The Immigration office is hidden away in the commercial port and you have to get written permission to enter the port and then walk past a site where they are fixing the big piers, they are welding and using big equipment to repair the docks and we had to wander past all the workers. Usually Customs and Immigration are located quite close to one another, this was truly strange. 
Yesterday we went to the north part of the island and visited a Marine Education Centre.  The former King of Holland was very interested in marine ecology and gave a bequest to Foundation here is Curaçao. They have used the money to establish a research centre for studying the life on the coral reefs and how pollution and global warming has effected the coral reefs.  They have perfected a way in which they can regenerate coral and encourage new growth in areas that die.  They also had a interesting display about sharks . To get to the centre we had to take a bus downtown, which only comes once an hour, then go across the bridge, find the bus station for the northern half of the country and take another bus.  I wanted to go and visit a big national park which is almost on the northern tip of the country but cannot face the buses again.  The bus that goes to the national park only runs once every two hours, I am sure that W would spend a good part of the day waiting on benches in the hot sun, so I think I will explore the lagoon in my dinghy today. 
We are heade to Aruba on Monday nights get.  It is close to 70 nm so rather than try and do it during daylight holidays hours we will leave here at dusk on Monday and arrive in Aruba on the morn no on Tuesday. 

Friday, March 03, 2017

Touring the island

We took a tour of Bonaire the other day, and I discovered one of the reasons we feel so at home here. There are only 18,000 people on the whole island, just the size of Yellowknife. The population swells every day when the cruise ship docks sometimes there are even two. Bonaire is all about diving with the Marine Park surrounding the island. There is a dive shop on almost every corner and the dive boats head out twice daily. Since the island is steep to, you can walk in the water off the shore to the dive spots around the island.  There are yellow painted rocks along the shore line to let the divers know where the good spots are. We spotted this sign near a popular dive spot and our driver informed us that divers are so anxious to get in the after they often don't look both ways before crossing the street. 

There is a flamingo sanctuary on the island and we were lucky to get some pictures of the ones that were close to shore. These flamingoes are really pink, the algae and the shrimp here must be really colourful. At the south end of the island there is a salt mine , the water is collected in pans and it is gradually evaporated leaving the salt to be harvested. The pans that partially evaporated water have a pinkish hue caused by the same algae that makes the flamingoes such a gorgeous colour. 

The only other town on the island besides the capital Kralendijk, is Rincon. It is located in a valley where in the past the residences were hidden from the Pirates and safe from the big winds which can assault the island. Slavery exist d here until 863, and the slaves worked out N the salt mines and N the plantations near Rincon.  The slaves had to walk eight to nine hours from the salt mines to their homes in Rincon, they worked five days on and two days off and during those two days had to walk home and back. There was a stop in Rincon where you could taste Cactus liqueur. An enterprising Dutchman  has been brewing this as well as a different liqueur for each Dutch Island in the Caribbean. 
A slave house with the yellow rock indicating a dive site close by. 

 The former slave houses have been rebuilt to provide a reminder of what conditions were like 150 years ago. These small houses were built by the Dutch, once slavery became unpopular, to prove that they were treating their slaves well. These small dwellings were sleeping quarters for four adult men. Once slavery was abolished the slaves were given some land to farm, but the conditions for growing anything on the island are very poor. The soil is nonexistent on this island of coral and limestone. Eons ago the water level was higher as evidenced by this former coast line about two meters above the present one. 

We learned a lot about the flora and fauna on the island.  One of the local culinary specialities is iguana soup. The first inhabitants lived here in 1400 BC and they used everything that was available . The thorns of the acacia trees were used as nails and the insides of the tall cacti were used for rope. There are mesquite trees which are still being used to make charcoal. There are mostly small scrubby trees and bushes that make up the vegetation on the island.  

The Spaniards introduced goats and donkeys to the island and they are running wild all over the island now.  There are lots of lovely birds here and I was happy to see a hummingbird this afternoon. 

We have been on five dives since we arrived. The first was with the dive company and they took us to the salt mine pier.  The long pillars that were sunk for the dock projected up through the water and it felt like I wa in outer space.  There were fish above and below us and the coral attached to the pillars was unusual and different. We saw a barracuda there that was larger than Barry!  We took our first dives on our own , taking the dinghy to four different dive spots.  The first day we had all the gear plus four tanks and we found the dinghy was just too small, so the next day we did a dive in the morning, went back to the boat for lunch and exchanged tanks then did the second dive later in the day.  It was really special to be on our own, exploring underwater sites, we saw some spotted eagle rays gliding by and I had my Caribbean Reef Fish guide out trying to identify some of the unusual species we saw.  

Yesterday we rented bicycles and made our way down to a protected inland lake at the south east corner of the island.  The ocean waves crash on a protective reef so the shallow spot makes it perfect for wind surfing.  Apparently Bonaire has some of the top wind surfers in the world and we were impressed by one fellow who was attempting and completing 540 degree turns, a full 360 followed by a 180 so we went in the opposite direction that he came from, impressive. We will probably head for Curaçao on Monday. 
An effective fence!