10/06/2010 - The Panama Canal

So as ordered I was up at 3 with Dan to make more coffee than you could point a stick at,.. we made 2 carafes, 2 pots and a big saucepan,.. no mean feat when it takes about 15 mins to boil a kettle.  However, we received compliments, so the effort was obviously worth it!

Even with that amount of coffee, it still ran out after 10 mins and more had to be made,.. 50+ tired crew means a lot of liquid!

At about 04.30 the pilot came aboard and we motored towards the canal, within a few minutes a boat pulled up alongside and the 6 boat crew clambered on board, these guys were really nice and as Mate Mike discovered I could speak Spanish I was put on “communication detail” in case anything needed to be explained to the boat crew… for the first time in over 2 months I felt useful!!!  As with most central/south Americans the main theme was football and I quickly discovered that there were a lot of Real Madrid supporters in the crew,.. but the big surprise was that the Football World Cup starts tomorrow!!!  I had completely forgotten and so had all the football savvy guys on the crew!  It is incredible to think that we are now so disconnected that we can forget about the biggest sporting event held!!  Long discussions were held on the topic of Messi, who would win the world cup etc and I chatted with them over coffee, tea biscuits and “Cocoa/Cacao” which they drank copious amounts of.

From time to time they actually had to do some work and the lines came aboard to be attached to the bits so we could be dragged through the canal and be positioned centrally by the “electric mules” or “locomotora”.  Everyone was banned from the breezeways as they recounted horrifying stories of colleagues who lost both legs when a towing wire parted, flicked out and severed them both in a second!  Then another where a co-worker lost 3 fingers…

Despite telling them my name on numerous occasions, I was monikered “EspaƱol” or “Catalan”, which was obviously easier to say than “Liam”,.. didn’t mind though,.. have I mentioned I felt useful!!

WT was sat on the Aloha deck with me and at one point he looked concerned and pointed to one of the bits that was being used by the “electric mules” to pull us along, it was actually parting from the deck!!  We told the boat crew who told me to tell the mate, who would tell their crew boss, who would tell the pilot who would tell the driver of the electric mule…. However when I pointed out the large crack appearing below the bit they started shouting, yelling and waving at the driver of the mule and he let off the line immediately,… so much for the protocol!!  WT and I decided that we would just yell at the driver of the mule as soon as we saw it happening again!!

This crew was only with us until we reached the large man-made lake in the middle of the canal so we bid them farewell and gave them some Picton Castle caps as a goodbye present which they seemed very happy with!

The lake in the middle of the canal was beautiful, lush rainforests bordered it and apparently it was common to see monkeys on the shoreline although I don’t think anyone saw any!

We made the most of the freshwater and carried out a deckwash, and an on deck power shower,.. desperately needed as everyone had been up since 3.45 and was tired, sweaty and dirty.

As we neared the southern side of the canal to go through the “esclosas” or “locks” we were approached by another crew carrying boat,.. now these guys were entrepreneurs in the most extreme sense of the word, as soon as they were on board they started to introduce themselves to all the female crew,.. 2 kisses were mandatory, they immediately started to hard sell key rings, caps and silver dollars (all out of view of the pilot) until they were ordered aft to start preparing the lines… as soon as they came across me they tried to sell me the same sort of things,.. with the addition of a small cube of something that looked like hash,.. perplexed I read the paper that came with this odd looking little brown cube “do not use whilst engaging in oral sex” it declared, and on reading further it became obvious that it was some kind of “delaying” herb,.. I laughed at the guy and told him to put it away.  Realizing they weren’t going to make any sales whilst on board they decided to make the most of the ship and one by one each boat crew member came up to me and requested caps, sweaters etc,.. by the end of the 2 and a half hours they were with us I had had enough of their sleazy ways and simply told them that the captain controlled all that and I would ask, but couldn’t promise anything… when we finally said goodbye to them, they received a Picton Castle Cap each and one of the boat crew approached me and said “is this all?”…  whilst chatting previously to one of them he told me that they thought we were all Americans and that is why they came aboard to try and sell us stuff!  If this was to be our first Panama City experience, it was going to be an interesting few days!

So we were in the Pacific, we passed under the Panama bridge and as we turned the corner into the bay where our marina was we got the first view of Panama City,..  to me it looked like “The City” in London, skyscrapers, most of the tallest still under construction littered the skyline, dark ominous clouds stained the sky above the city (the rest of the sky was clear), to me it looked like something out of a horror film where some horrible claw is about to descend from the heavens!

I don’t know if it is due to having spent the last 2 months in a tiny coastal town in Canada and a month on a ship or just that it is not a nice looking city, but I decided that I really don’t like big cities.  And this is from someone who lived in central London for most of his life!  Maybe I’ll move to some small pacific or Caribbean Island after this trip!

The crossing of the canal had only taken us 8 hours,.. we had expected 13 or 14!!  So our mooring was occupied by a fishing trawler with engine problems and so to ensure they knew we had arrived and try and intimidate them into giving up their spot we moved into the small marina and dropped the anchor,.. everything was fine until the wind changed direction and wee were suddenly in danger of taking out a  section of the marina,… we upped anchor and using the rescue boat to push the bow round we headed out to sea again.  Murphy’s law was in full effect as the fishing trawler suddenly took the opportunity to escape from the marina and we motored back in towards our mooring and dry land… I can’t believe it has only been a few days since we were in Bonaire, everyone is desperate to clean their clothes, get a hotel room, a cold beer etc.. god help us on the pacific crossing when we are 6 weeks without landfall!!

The captain managed the ship perfectly and we moved onto our mooring with the ease and elegance that the ship deserves.  A small crowd had assembled to watch us come in and they happily clicked away as we organized the lines on deck and fixed on chafe gear (canvas, rubber and assorted material that we wrap around the dock lines so that they don’t wear through as the ship moves with the swell whilst moored).  I was sent up to the bowsprit to furl the sails and together with Brad and Dave we managed to furl them incorrectly 3 times… I learnt a lot though!

All hands muster was called and the Captain gave us a briefing on what to expect from Panama and the watch schedule.  Post was also given out and I finally received my Irish Passport and a loving and lengthy letter from my dear parents “love your blog.  Love mum and dad” was all it said… I understand it was sent very hurriedly though.  Sophie received a letter from someone who wrote entirely in non-water resistant ink, the letter had obviously received a good soaking from the inundations over Panama city we had seen as we arrived and about 30% was legible… it’s the thought that counts though, isn’t it?  Hope she could figure out who it was from!

Yet another power shower was required by most people and after a freshwater power shower thanks to the dock’s water supply we headed into town to find somewhere that could quench our thirst and provide us with a cold beer.  After paying a cab driver an extortionate 20 dollars to get to the Casco Viejo (old quarter) we found a lovely little jazz bar called La Platea and I played translator while people ordered drinks and food.  Despite cold beers and cute waitresses, (one whose number I got and invited to see the ship) people wanted to find somewhere to wake us up and we went and got lost in the Casco Viejo (Old neighbourhood) of Panama city.

Found an interesting bar called La Casona,.. Essentially just a ground floor of a dilapidated building on the shore.. they had put 4 tables, some music and a bar,.. very cool.. and before we knew it, it was 1.30am,..  I had been awake for the best part of 24 hours!  Got back to bed!


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