We took a road trip before driving home from San Diego and thought Anza-Borrego would be a good place to see wildflowers this time of year. Yellow brittle brush was everywhere. The landscape strewn with giant boulders and vivid blue sky was magnificent.
After 26 days we’re leaving the Fish Hook Marina here in Golfito. The transport ship just arrived and at 4 o’clock in the afternoon we head over to big lift Happy Ranger to wait our turn for loading. We’re waiting and waiting and waiting. It’s hot. There’s no bimini so we’re baking in the sun. Our friend Ruben comes over with the ship’s diver to say hi.
Well there’s been a complete lack of communication with anybody who seems to know what they’re doing. We’re sure there are people here who know what they’re doing, they’re just not telling us. Finally, just after 5pm, the load master shouts over to us to come over. We position Chesapeake on the port side of the ship. Big yellow strapping lines are thrown down to us to feed through the bow and stern cleats. After a lot of yelling the straps are made taut and we swivel against the ship, our fenders protecting our hull, while Jim releases the back stay and removes the boom lift. We climb onto a small outboard so they can hoist Chesapeake up (we’re not allowed on board for that). It starts to rain. Typical afternoon downpour and we get soaked. The diver adjusts the pads so the lifting straps don’t damage the hull. Our lift marks are ignored – the load master guesstimates where the straps go based on, um, experience? It’s agonizing to watch.
It’s now dark and we’re allowed to board the ship from a small metal ladder attached to the outside of the ship. We’re given hard hats. We stand around in the rain waiting for them to finish securing Chesapeake in the cradle. All around us welders are securing other cradles for the next two boats. A flimsy ladder, barely reaching the stern, is held by two crew so we can climb up to our boat (still raining). We need to reattach the back stay and boom lift, then remove our dock lines and make a general check everything is secure on board. It’s surprising how tightly packed all the boats are – like a giant jigsaw puzzle.
We climb down, not for the faint of heart on that ladder, and see our little outboard is ready to take us to shore but the crew are taking down the ladder on the outside of the ship. They reposition the vertical stanchions on the ladder but there is no connecting rope for a hand rail to hang onto . It’s a nerve-wracking crab walk backwards down the ladder into the outboard.
For us, the whole operation took 3 hours. We were lucky. The fellow behind us, loaded last, spent 5 hours fighting current, rain and wind to get his boat loaded. This morning we all compared notes with our agent here. We were assured this was not a typical experience. More like one of the worst he’s seen. Let’s hope unloading goes more smoothly.
Transiting the Panama Canal was the exclamation point at the end of “We completed our circumnavigation!” Eight years, 51,000 nm, 41 countries and now we’re heading back to Berkeley.
The Panama Canal has been on our horizon the past two years and looking back we see it’s a lot about waiting and patience. So many decisions to make before we even got to the Canal. Use an Agent checking into Panama and transiting the Canal or do it ourselves? We opted to use Erick Galvez of Centenario Consulting who was helpful with all the paperwork, permits, Admeasuring inspection, lines, fenders, handlers and Advisor. There’s a lot involved in going through and Noonsite is a good source of information. Noonsite
Soon as we arrived Shelter Bay Marina we got our registry number, had our Admeasure inspection to ensure Chesapeake complied with regulations for transit–holding tanks, AIS, bathroom for use by Advisor and line handlers, adequate fuel, ability to make 5-8 kt at all times. We also had to choose our positioning inside the lock–outside near the wall (no way), rafted to a tugboat (too much backwash), or rafted up with other sailboats (preferably as the middle boat–yes). We opted for rafting with other sailboats. Feeding the crew was explained–provide lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch for all on board, along with water and snacks. We were advised to feed them well-–no vegetarian meals!
Here’s a detailed explanation of the transit process if interested. Procedures
We had to wait until Carnival was over before we could get an Advisor and transit date. On February 28 four young men with no English came aboard with 8 mooring fenders and 4 sets of 7/8 x 125ft long polypropylene line. At 12:40 we headed to The Flats, the area before the Canal, and waited for our Advisor. Moses arrived at 16:30 and we rafted up with another sailboat and motored into Gatun Lock to wait while a big tugboat came behind us followed by a tanker. We watched men onshore throw weighted lines onto our boat to be used to keep us in the center of the lock as the men walked along the seawall and we motored through the lock. The doors closed and water rose and fell hundreds of feet. We were the last boats through the lock today. We cleared Gatun Lock in the dark, about 17:30, detached our lines and motored a mile to Gatun Lake for the night. No mooring balls were available so we rafted up with 3 other boats by 20:30. Dinner was served, Moses was picked up and the line handlers slept all over the boat. It was the end to a long and exhausting day.
Next morning, March 1, started just after sunrise making breakfast for the line handlers before the next Advisor came. At 9:50, well after the other boats had departed, Francisco arrived. It was 25.5 nm to a waiting area outside Pedro Miguel Lock where we rafted up with the 63 ft boat in the middle flanked by us and a smaller boat. And we waited. At 16:15 we went into the lock, closely followed by a barge and tanker. Then we went through Miraflores at 18:40 with the same barge and cargo ship. The last gate opened and out we went into the dark. No time to celebrate. We had to drift near Balboa Yacht Club so the handlers, lines and fenders could be picked up. We continued to wait for Erick to bring us our Zarpa and pick up Francisco. By 19:30 we cautiously made our way over to La Playita to anchor. Thankfully we still had our track from 2010. We were too wired yet exhausted to fully comprehend our accomplishment but a calmness descended around us.
Here’s the path the Canal takes
The mechanics of how the locks work is simple. Panama and The Canal is located 85ft/26m (at its highest point) above sea level. So a boat has to be lifted up at one end and lowered back down at the other end. Three sets of locks accomplish this. On the Caribbean side, starting with the Gatun Locks, passing through Pedro Miguel Locks and finally Miraflores Locks, then sailing under the Bridge of the Americas to arrive at the Pacific Ocean.
Here’s an interesting YouTube video of the Canal expansion.
And then there are the facts about the Canal Facts
I think I have Canal obsession after looking at all my phones and then trying to get a good aerial shot online. Instead here’s a shot you don’t often see.
March 14, 2017
Waiting. That’s what we’re doing. We arrived at Fish Hook Marina, Golfito, Costa Rica on March 4 assuming the transport ship would arrive a few days later. Several delays have allowed us time to ready Chesapeake for transport and do a little touring. But mostly we’re waiting.
The plan is for Chesapeake to be transported to Ensenada and we will fly home briefly before we fly down to Ensenada to take delivery. We’ll do a bottom job and get her ready for sailing up the coast of California in late summer. Barring any surprises along the way we expect to fly our flags through The Gate end of September.
This shows where we are (red arrow) now.
golfito central america map
This shows where we are and where we did our land travel up in the San Vito area and into Parque Amistad.
golfito area map red marks
Jim and Linda
Friends of Olivio and Yemileth at Hospedaje Cerro Pittier recommended A Pizzeria Liliana in San Vito. It’s been ages since we had a decent pizza and our mouths watered the whole way back to San Vito. We weren’t disappointed. If you know us well you can guess which was Jim’s and which was mine. ¡Buen provecho!
Bruce at Fish Hook Marina suggested we might want to see some of the area since we had to wait for the transport ship. We wanted to escape the heat and humidity of Golfito . He suggested Hospedaje Cerro Pittier at about 5,200 ft. altitude. It’s at the end of the road to Parque Int’l Amistad and offers cooler weather. Good thing we’d rented a 4-wheel drive jeep or we never would have made it up some of the rock-strewn roads. With the help of GPS we only got lost once.
We thought we were just getting cooler weather at a farm hostel. We didn’t realize we would experience rural farm life with Olivio and Yemileth who rarely buy anything and certainly don’t waste anything. Their garden provides the food, the trucha is stocked with hand raised trout, free range chickens give eggs, cows provide milk for drinking and cheese making, the bees make honey, they press their own cane sugar and the pig, well…
Needless to say we thoroughly enjoyed our relaxing stay. Olivio and Yemileth only speak Spanish so conversation was a lot of hand signals interspersed with my Spanish on the level of a four year old. We got by and were well fed.
Olivio made everything -the house, bungalow, furniture, stove in the outdoor kitchen
Yemileth was a good cook making her own corn tortillas, plantains from the garden, cheese from their cows, and delicious locally grown coffee
Some of the farm animals are just too cute
There’s a lot of work on the farm
More house shots
And then there’s the milking. It’s harder than it looks and neither Jim nor I could get a drop out of her. Farmers we’re not.
If you’re ever in Costa Rica and want the real deal or to brush up on your Spanish get in touch with Olivio and Yemileth. They’re special folks. firstname.lastname@example.org
We were tired of hiding out in the air conditioned room at the marina in Golfito, waiting for the transport ship to arrive. A road trip into the Puntarenas mountains was suggested for cooler weather. Roads were good for the most part and using Google Earth we managed to only get lost once in the switchback roads through the countryside. The only problem was finding a gas station when the “need gas” light came on.
First stop was Wilson Botanic Gardens with the second largest collection of palms in the world. What impressed us was the bamboo – certainly the biggest we’d ever seen. We strolled through leaf covered paths listening to creaking bamboo and various birds.
After a lengthy walk we settled in at Cascata Del Busco down the road. Our 16-sided bungalow was like a round tree-house nestled in the jungle. We tried a dark stout local beer that was one of the best we’ve had in forever. Dinner and breakfast was delicious and we met some pretty interesting folks who dropped by (the bee specialist for the Smithsonian and a Canadian expat living in Panama). We felt so welcome it was hard to leave.
Not sure you can see me standing next to another giant stand of bamboo. There’s a little path leading inside where I took the next shot.
It was a two day motor sail from La Playita, Panama to Fish Hook Marina, Golfito, Costa Rica. Long lines of pelicans and cormorants passed us by as well as a small pod of dolphins. In the two days on this side of the Canal we’ve seen more birds than the whole four months in the Caribbean. It’s good to be back in the Pacific.
Chesapeake is stripped of her sails as we get her ready for the transport ship. We have a resident egret who fishes near our bow throughout the day. It’s unbelievably hot here, and of course humid. We can’t wait to get back to the cool Bay Area weather.
One thing I’m really looking forward to is our washer and dryer and other land conveniences.
We officially closed the loop. Finally cleared the Canal at 16:40 (6:40pm) today. We rafted up with two other boats and were closely followed by a barge and cargo ship. Found a place to anchor in La Playita about 7pm. Tomorrow we head to Golfito, Costa Rica to prepare Chesapeake for the transport ship arriving March 10.