Archive for February, 2007

Michelle in Panama

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

My friend Michelle visited a couple of weeks ago. She sent us an email along the lines of, “Hey, are you guys going to be around for the next eight or so days if I were to fly down?” And after we replied in the affirmative, the next email had flight dates and times. Right on! We picked her up at the Panama international airport where she was NOT arrested and thrown in prison for smuggling in Meyer Lemons (OH. MY. GOD.) packed in a large high-quality ziplock freezer bag (I was also stoked on the bag; this is because I am a huge dork) and I spent no less than three days smelling them and generally freaking out over the brilliance that is a Meyer Lemon. They just don’t care for lemons here, did I mention this? It is a shocking oversight on the part of Central America if you ask me.

meyer lemons

[Aren’t they beautiful?]

So we spent a week relaxing (i.e., not running around town in the blasting heat trying to find a DC potentiometer or somesuch, which doesn’t exist here) and playing tourist.

First in order was to introduce Michelle to the Panamanian Night Scene, which involves an inordinate amount of beer and confusion as to where to go now, where to go next, where to go for ‘el arranque’ (last drink), and where to go for all subsequent arranques. Thankfully cousin Tito was there to help us with the logistics.

Jet lag ingeniously staved off by a hangover the next morning, we headed down to Cinco de Mayo where we caught a bus on to the Miraflores Locks museum and visitors center. Here you can view the big ships (and sometimes the little sailboats) going up and down in the water. It’s really terribly exciting. We wandered around the museum which was fairly educational of course but my favorite parts were the vitrines of butterflies and other freaky bugs typically found in the area and a simulated bridge of a container ship with a wide screen that makes it look like You are the Pilot going through the locks. So you can push buttons and flip toggle switches and bark out orders on the fake phone until someone else comes into the room, and then you stand around quietly, trying to look intelligent until you finally say, “huh,” and move on to the next display.

cheyenne and michelle. miraflores locks. Panama Canal

miraflores locks. Panama Canal

Out on the observation deck we watched a car carrier and a large tanker full of something that may have been flammable, that is, if the Danger Orange paint job and ten-foot lettering advising you to NOT use cell phones or monkey around with naked lights was any indication. After watching the ships go down to the Pacific, we went back into the freezing air conditioning to watch a bizarre educational film on the canal that was edited like that Will Smith movie where he is being stalked by a bunch of computer geeks (Enemy of the State, maybe) with a Matrix soundtrack.

tito in the bamboo

[We went with Tito inland towards the deserted former Canal Zone town of Gamboa and on the way stopped at a botanical park and zoo. Here is Tito frolicking amongst the bamboo.]

baby two-toed sloth

[Baby two-toed sloth. He was so adorable I thought I would keel over on the spot. Exceedingly lucky people in the know (Tito) can find the sloth-keeper dude and actually get to hold him but today he was sick (poor guy!) and so we could only peep at him in his crate with his teddy bear and try not to die of cute overload.]

strange road sign. Panama

[One must always be careful not to hit pokey-nosed beasties with wide blunt whiskers.]

Strange sign. God loves tourists. Gamboa Panama

[God Loves Tourists in Gamboa, but evidently not Gamboa itself, which looked like it hadn’t seen a tourist since the late 80s.]

The next day we stocked the cooler with ice and pulled anchor to head out to Isla Taboga for the day. The sail over was exceedingly mellow, as opposed to the last trip out to Taboga with Tito and Rachel when it blew like snot and the seas were choppy and ugly. Then it took us about a billion years to anchor since it was a weekend and all the power boaters were floating all over the mooring field where the only quiet anchoring spot lies. “Oh, you mean it’s not always like this?” asked Rachel after we finally anchored out in some major chop. Lucky for Michelle who has a history of seasickness, it was calm and there were no power boats in the anchorage; we chucked the anchor overboard only minutes before we were able to jump over ourselves.

Michelle. Beach on Taboga, Panama

[Michelle in Taboga.]

Cathedral on Taboga, Panama

[Cathedral in Taboga, which has a plaque explaining that the original foundations were constructed shortly after the village was founded in 1524. It did not mention when the Vegas remodel took place.]

Taboga is a pretty little island with a history full of pirate-sacking and lacks only a decent anchorage. There is a small colorful town nestled on one side and more footpaths than roads. We wandered around town in the blazing heat until we wizened up and found a shady trail around the northern side of the island where there were a bunch of old WWII bunkers, collapsing with age and covered with vines and jungly overgrowth. Michelle was completely fascinated with the ruins and spent an alarming amount of brain power trying to figure out what the series of ditches, covered sunken areas, and culvert-looking things could have been used for. I stood around geeking over the preponderance of enormous morphos, among other gorgeous butterflies and wondering if it was possible to catch them (it’s pretty much not). The morphos on Taboga are particularly awesome—extremely large, opaque, and more violet blue than usual. Joshua found about a hundred leetle froggies and spent probably twenty minutes trying to get a good photo of the guys, who moved like lightning.


[This was the best one.]

We went to Casco Antiguo and wandered around the barrio looking at the nifty buildings and the Kuna women selling their molas and seed jewelry on the sidewalks. They always tell introduce you to the “mola” like you have never seen one in your life, and you walk another fifteen feet and there is another woman with molas. “Molas,” she pronounces carefully, sweeping her arm over her display. It’s an interesting area of town with slummy buildings that look like they would surely fall down if they were not held up by the buildings on either side, which might be totally renovated and decked with varnished wooden shutters, flower boxes, and ornate iron balconies. Or it might be an empty shell just waiting force of gentrification to catch up with it.

casco antiguo, Panama City

Michelle with Mola

Michelle did not resist the temptation of the mola. We had fun. I hope she did too.

Puente de Centenario

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Gaillard Cut. Puete de Centenario. Panam Canal

Gaillard Cut, Panama Canal, Panamá.

Cheyenne has a bunch of posts ready for you all, but we’ve been running around doing last minute things before we leave Panama City and go through the canal. We’ll be transiting on Sunday the 25th of February. Our crew will be Jan and Richard from Slipaway, Benjamin (a friend from the states), and Cousin Tito. I know you’ve got nothing better to do so you should catch us on the live webcam. Unfortunately, we can’t give you an exact time, but it will be between 6am and noon for the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks. Then if all goes well, we’ll exit into the Mar Caribe through the Gatun Locks around 4 in the afternoon. Panamá Time is the same as Eastern Time (-5).

More Pokey Seed Pods

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

Seed Pods. Casa Orquideas, Costa Rica

Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica.

Pokey Seed Pods

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

Seed Pods. Isla Bayoneta, Las Perlas, Panama

Isla Bayoneta, Las Perlas, Panamá.

Panama Canal: Adagio goes to the Pacific

Monday, February 12th, 2007

Since we are planning on a canal transit with the Time Machine, we decided to volunteer as crew/line handlers on someone else’s boat first. We were referred to a boat we never met called Adagio (a 38-foot Morgan) by some other people we never met and took the bus to Colon to meet up with Dimitri and Meri. Also crewing was a Caribbean sailor named Ray.

Adagio. Dimitri and Meri

The intrepid captains of Adagio and our hosts for the canal transit, Caribbean to Pacific. We arrived about five hours too early and so did a little wandering around Colon before heading out to the boat. We pulled anchor and picked up the canal pilot at around 4pm.

Joshua. Panama Canal

Heading into the canal, where they got them big ships, for the Gatun Locks.

Carlos our Canal transit Advisor

Carlos, our pilot, was an incredibly nice guy who explained all about how the canal works for us line-handling virgins.

rafting up for the Gatun Locks, Panama Canal

The sun set just as we arrived at the locks and we met up with the two other sailboats we were to tie up with. Annapurna was a 48-foot Hans Christian that was built like an old-fashioned bathtub and weighed probably a billion pounds. The French Boat was another 37-ish footer and was built of aluminum. The two smaller boats tied up on either side of Annapurna, who amusingly had about 20 people on deck—all experienced line handlers—and they had nothing to do but stand around offering “advice” to us outer boats.

Baltic Reefers. Panama Canal

We had to wait for the Baltic Reefer to go ahead of us. These things are BIG.

Gatun Locks at night. Panama Canal

By the time we entered the locks, it was totally dark. The outer boats were responsible for the line handling, much to the chagrin of Annapurna’s weathered crew, and we made the lines fast as the doors closed us into the first lock.

We were to be raised, 44 feet at a time, to the level of lake Gatun and once everyone was situated in the locks, millions of gallons of water started gushing in from below. The effect on our flotilla suspended by ropes in the middle was alarming and we started to lumber around in the locks, first pulling all the weight of the three boats on one corner line (attached to one little cleat) and then another. Meanwhile, we had to take in the slack as the boat rose. Ray and I were on bow detail and we watched nervously as the line tightened on our forward cleat, making loud popping noises, then loosened and we had to quickly take in slack before it tightened again.

Gatun Locks at night. Panama Canal

When we got to the top of the first lock, the lock line handlers tied light lines to our thick ropes and tossed them back down to us, walking with the lines to the next lock as Annapurna was finally called into action to motor us forward.

Gatun Locks at night. Panama Canal

We repeated the process three times to get to the level of the lake and while the bow cleat held, the aft cleat bent to the side by about an inch from the stress. We exited the locks, untied ourselves from the other sailboats, and motored over to the moorings to tie up for the night.

Pat the canal transit advisor

The next morning the pilot boats came by with new pilots for the day. We got a guy named Pat who was incredibly hung over after playing poker the night before.

Banana Cut. Gatun Lake. Panama Canal

The lake is something like 25 miles long and we had four hours to motor to the other side to the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks; if you hold up the show, you get charged the big bucks. Most boats lie and say that they can motor at 8 knots even if this is an impossible hull speed; Dimitri was able to keep us at a comfortable 6.1 knots the entire way with no problems.



line handlers

Master motorers, Adagio passed The French Boat midway through.

canal widening construction. Gaillard cut. Panama Canal

They are widening the canal and building a new set of locks. There was lots of construction in the cut.

Puente de Centenario. Panama Canal

Passing under Puente de Centenario; we are almost to the Pedro Miguel locks.


Did I mention that these ships are really big? In the narrower sections of the cut you pass very close.

Pedro Miguel Locks. Panama Canal

Arriving at last to the locks. Pat is looking a little less green and we reunite with Annapurna and The French Boat for the trip down.

Cheyenne line handling. Pedro Miguel Locks. Panama Canal

Since Ray did all the work on the way up, I get to do the work on the way down. Here I am looking like a dork rough and ready.

Pedro Miguel Locks. Panama Canal

DAMN those things are big.

Pedro Miguel Locks. Panama Canal

Entering the locks. Going down is way way easier than going up. The movement of the flotilla was imperceptible and I just played out line when necessary.

Pedro Miguel Locks. Panama Canal

The mule dudes giving us the thumbs-up.

Miraflores Locks. Panama Canal

We’re done! We are SO OVER those locks.

Crocodile. Panama Canal

Crocodile on the beach. Might be stuffed.

Bridge of the Americas. Panama Canal

Welcome to the Pacific! (Bridge of the Americas)

Cheyenne Weil, Joshua Coxwell