Caribbean Sea, Passage from Kuna Yala to Colon, Panama, the entrance to the Panama Canal (Feb. 5 - Feb. 6, 2015)
We departed Kuna Yala (San Blas) yesterday at sunset, carefully retracing our GPS tracks between the reefs. Before we weighed anchor, we ran into the crew of Lovesail, who graciously exchanged 20 Euro, the only money we had left and which is useless in San Blas and Panama, for 20 US. The exchange rate clearly benefited them in this scenario, but we feel we came out pretty even after the assistance they gave us on our trip back to Coconut Woman from frisky waves near the island docks.
We took an intense, unintended surfing expedition in the rowing dinghy on the way back to the boat, and lost an oar. I tried pitifully, to skull after the thing with the remaining oar while Justin frantically bailed, until one of their crew, Craig, came gallantly to our rescue on his paddleboard, retrieving the oar. A large ray elected to jump out of the water to watch the spectacle, giving us one in return. Their Captain, Mark, assisted us by coming to our rescue in his dinghy, so all in all, everyone got a good laugh at our expense, including the local wildlife.
But this short night passage was made all the more special by the last minute addition of a crossover crew member from Triton. We took Nick aboard so Triton's Captain, Gunnar, could make a break for another port and catch a flight back to Germany to attend to business. In fresh night breezes averaging between 15-22 kn , gusting to around 30 kn, Nick, Justin and I got to know each other better by yammering over fresh garlic bread and spicy lentils with coconut rice, then finished off with our nightly sacrament of dark chocolate bars.
Nick and I pulled the night shift, serving as fly paper for airborn salt particles, while Coconut Woman galloped happily along reveling in her element: strongish winds tickling her around her belly, beginning the evening just fore of her beam then easing around just aft of it. The almost-full moon was so bright it swallowed the stars and jealously cast them down onto the water, causing ripples of twinkling diamonds.
Then we came upon a vast field of robust, looming lights, over 230 cargo ships and freighters as counted on the AIS, most of them anchored just outside of one the most busy waterways in the world, the entrance the to Panama Canal.
As we made our approach, darkness gave way to vague hulking monoliths of metal until one by one, every ship on the monitor disappeared. Our AIS had functioned just long enough to get us through the night, then let out a dying gasp. We were left with radar and eyeballing our way through a minefield of hundreds of colossal freighters, who may or may not have given two measly container's worth whether they could see a wee sailboat amongst their mammoth flock.
As we entered the breakwater entrance channel, our old Volvo Penta engine began to huff and seemed to require verbal coaxing to get her to keep trucking. If she were to side with the AIS, we would have to depend on our staysail (cutter staysail) to sail us the rest of the way into the harbor in lumpy uncomfortable seas typical of large inlets we had suffered through in the past, but we knew we had the wind and current in our favor in the very least, and the first pilot of the morning was 17 minutes out from arriving to his first freight vessel.
In we sailed and made a b-line to the narrow marina entrance, along a boundary of explosives and hazardous anchorage. With radio assistance of marina staff, we squeezed our way in and down to F Dock. Just before we rounded the turn into our row, the engine finally gave us the middle finger. An unfortunate silence filled the air as we coasted along without power.
Justin went forward to ready the staysail in case we needed her for power while I took the helm. We had exactly just enough steerage to glide right into our designated slip. It was hairy, but luck was just enough on our side that morning to give us a near perfect landing.
I suppose if things hadn't gone over so well, I'd be writing this from a different point of view. But as far as I'm concerned, every moment right down to the last put a Chesire Cat grin on my face that just kept growing, and at that gorgeous ridiculous moment when Coconut Woman nestled her nose into that slip, my toothy grin was glowing just as brightly as last night's moon.
The view from the cat box: Nina, the sailing cat, tells it like it is
Now we are at a marina in Colon, and I have fully reclaimed the cockpit. I ventured forth onto the bow our first evening but caught sight of an unleashed poodle eyeing my bits as if they were a gourmet dinner, so I've elected to remain in the cockpit while Colonside.
Oh! and cat litter is not always easy to find. Check out the provisioning link.