Cruising with Playpen
Leg 2 - Installment 10 
Balboa Yacht Club and the Panama Canal 3/27/03 to 4/06/03

—the last of this leg

3/27/03 Balboa Yacht Club
The moorings at BYC are very nice. We moored near the launch dock in front of the Bridge of the Americas. We saw all the canal traffic, coming and going, and only rocked when a pilot boat went zipping by. There was a nice breeze and enough cloud cover to keep us comfortable. Fred developed an ear infection and spent most of the day sleeping through his medication.

3/28-29/03 BYC 
Fred threw his back out, and was alternating between ear and back meds. Fortunately, the pain med worked for both.

3/30/03 BYC
Fred’s feeling better. We went ashore to watch a Make-a-Wish rubber ducky race and go to TGI Friday’s for dinner. Getting excited about transiting and anxious to get moving again.

3/31/03 BYC
We rode across the Bridge of the Americas, brought son, Fred’s plane ticket from the San Blas back to the mainland, and provisioned one last time. When we got back to Playpen we learned that there had been an oil spill in a lock, and we would not be transiting tomorrow. Fred III arrived and we made alternate plans.

We hired a taxi driver for a day of sightseeing. Moses took us to Colon, Ft. San Lorenzo, and through Panama City. We saw the ghetto-like conditions of downtown Colon and viewed the Caribbean kicking up in the 20-30 kn winds. Seas were breaking over the 10’ seawall, and the large ships were rocking and rolling at anchor—uh-oh.

Ft. San Lorenzo is accessed by a bumpy gravel road through the jungle, which opens up to the Rio Chagres, and beautiful fort ruins. The pirates used to sail up the Chagres and hike overland to Balboa to plunder. Panamanian runners would go from the Caribbean forts through the jungle to Balboa to warn of the impending attack.

There’s a lot of history in panama—from the Indians, to the pirates, to the Colombians, to the building of the canal, to Noriega, to the acquisition of the canal and the responsibilities of running and maintaining it. The Canal Museum is a wealth of information about the incredible task of building the canal. This area was teeming with workmen of all nationalities, military leaders, engineers, doctors, drug dealers, and thieves.

Driving across country today we saw de-forested, terraced hillsides, sparse jungle, lots of concrete plants, billboards for the free trade zone, lots of colorful buses, and lots of uniformed school kids. We arrived back at BYC about 7:30 and bumped into our agent, Pete Stevens. He had 2 huge fenders and KFC for us. Guess we’re really going tomorrow!

Back on Playpen, Fred & Fred inflated and set up the fenders and lines. Pete said we’d be rafting with Annie and Alyssa, and our line handlers would arrive at 0600. We watched the Balboa scenery for one last night—I really enjoyed the mooring and watching the ship traffic.


4/1/02- lines, fenders, KFC arrive

4/2/03-0600—Miller, Jorge, Roberto, line handlers, arrive.

0715—Miguel, adviser, arrives to meet us at Buoy 12.

0750—Begin approach to canal under clear skies, 80*, 10kn wind on our bow.

0920—In position behind "Antiope", a 500’ refrigerator ship from Nassau. Fenders juggled on Playpen to fit "Unidad", our tug. Last minute changes put us tied to a tug, and Annie & Alyssa rafted together and tied to a tug.

0940—Enter west chamber of Mira Flores Lock. Passed an alligator just outside lock

0945—Going up! Secured to tug, water boiling around us. Started going up before completely secured to tug, but lines and fenders look good.

1000—Out of 1st lock, secured again to tug, going up in front of viewing stand at Mira Flores.

1025—Exit Mira Flores Lock—1 mi. to next lock. Scramble to move fenders and lines to starboard side.

1100—Enter Pedro Miguel Lock

1125—Exit lock into Lago Gatun. 20 kn wind on bow

1200—Lunch time—KFC & hot dogs. Line handlers relaxing on back deck. Advisor eating in salon (off of windy bridge). Clouds building on the horizon

1350—Exit shipping channel into Banana Cut, which cuts through islands and lots of dead trees sticking up just outside channel. Must pilot carefully—especially in the wind.

1430—Received word we’ll be nested with Alyssa & Annie for the 1515 lock. Wind 30+gusts, choppy seas

1440—anchored before Gatun Lock. Wind down to 15+/-

1530—waiting for hazardous material ship to enter lock. Apparently there’s a problem with a locomotive at the lock.

1600—weigh anchor

1635—secured to Gatun Lock wall with Annie & Alyssa tied on port side.

1700—Secured to tug, "Mehaffey" on port—another change in plans. Annie & Alyssa are rafted together in center chamber. Going down! Antiope off our stern.

1715—Into 2nd Gatun Lock

1720—Going down.

1735—Out of 2nd lock and into 3rd

1740—Bow line was secured to tug, stern line wasn’t caught; no spring line. Current turned us sideways and 180*. Our stern hit Annie’s dinghy hanging from her stern and tapped Alyssa. Our bow pulpit hit the tug. Finally got turned and secured to tug backwards. Trying to figure out how to get out of this mess. Line handlers looking pretty sad. Capt. disappointed.

1805—Tug Capt. got permission to tow us out of lock—backwards. We had engines revved to try to prevent backwash up exhaust pipes. Antiope bearing down on us.

1810—Cast off tug in mid-channel, turned around and tested engines to get out of Dodge! Wind=18-25kn on bow. Antiope steamed past us at full bore—rock & roll.

1825—Alyssa reports no damage. Annie has dinghy damage. We agreed to handle it ourselves and not involve officialdom

1900—anchored in F anchorage (the flats) off Cristobal. Too windy to launch Whaler. Hailed a passing dinghy to take line handlers ashore

1915—Port Captain aboard to write up incident. Said current in that lock is wicked and catches lots of boats. We think the tug was also maneuvering to stay off the wall and caused even more turbulence.

1945—We’re settling down, assessing, and very thankful that no one was hurt. Wind is howling in the crowded anchorage renowned for poor holding. Capt. will sleep in salon tonite to monitor. Tomorrow we’ll look over Playpen in daylight. So far, we see no damage.

4/3/03 Colon
We hired Roberto as our driver to show us through the Gamboa region of the rainforest and canal. We hiked a bit (saw no wildlife), and went to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, another deserted resort. The weather forecast still called for strong winds and at least 14’ seas; so we decided to stay put in our secure anchorage for a few more days. Fred III decided to fly home since it was evident we wouldn’t make it to Portobelo or San Blas before his vacation time was up.

4/4/03 Colon
We went ashore to buy Polarized sunglasses and provision yet again. Then we shared photos with Annie’s crew. They got a shot of Fred III in mid-air with a fender to keep us off Annie and Alyssa when we were swinging around in the canal.

4/5/03 Colon
We joined a group of cruisers for a tour of the Wausaan Indian Tribe village. Twenty-five natives had fled the Colombia-Panama war in the Darien Jungle about 30 years ago. They squatted on a piece of jungle outside Colon. Now as Colon is expanding the land is wanted by a beer company. The Indians don’t want to give up their village, and an enterprising 22 yr. old is developing a tour to bring in money for legal fees. About 1 Sunday a month he brings tourists by public bus to the river, then by large dugout canoes up the river to the village. There we were greeted by the native women and children. It was just like a National Geographic special!! The women and little girls were painted and topless with colorful skirts and beads. The boys and men were also painted and wore loincloths made of palm bark (but we saw "Hanes" waistbands peeking out). They danced for us, showed us how to put sugarcane through a primitive wringer device to extract the juice, fed us smoked fish, banana, and coconut rice, and took us to a trickling waterfall for a swim with the kids, who were jovial and playful. The trip cost $25 per person, and there were 20 of us—a bit of money for the legal fund. "Bender", our guide is going to try to manage more than 1 trip a month. He goes to "college" Monday through Saturday and only has Sunday for the tours. He’s the only English-speaking member living in the tribe. They have their own school, but we didn’t get the info on when, or if, they move to public school. There are 75 tribe members now ranging in age from babies to 75 years old. It was a fascinating day!

4/6/03 Colon to Portobelo 9* 33.33N 79* 39.69W 18nm 3 ¼ hr.
We’re finally on our way again! It looks like the weather window may open up for a few days. We thrashed our way through 4-6’ choppy seas to Portobelo ("beautiful port" named by Christopher Columbus). The anchorage was calm in the natural circular harbor. Annie is traveling with us, but Alyssa decided to head North to San Andreas, off the Nicaraguan coast. We want to explore the San Blas Islands before heading home.

Lots of Pictures



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