Panama Canal: Practice Run

We wanted to do a practice run through the canal on someone else’s boat, so that we would know what to expect when we brought Villa through. So we agreed to line handle for another couple passing through, a few days after getting Villa measured. We dropped Dinkus off at the Shelter Bay dinghy dock, paid them their blood money for leaving him tied up, and got a ride back out to the anchorage from Sander, Blue Beryl’s Captain.

We hung out on the boat and watched Villa rocking in the distance, while we waited for the canal advisor to arrive. Captain made sure to get acquainted with all the hidey holes. We were a little nervous leaving Villa on her backup anchor, but we hadn’t had enough time for the paint on our main chain to dry, and she’d held for the last week … and we didn’t want to change right before we left.

The advisor arrived around sunset, and we started to make our way towards the first locks.

When we reached the lock, we “nested” with the other two boats, i.e. we tied to the side of the giant catamaran Lolalita. Because they were so much bigger than the other two boats, there was space for their bow and stern lines to reach the walls with plenty of clearance, so the boats on the sides were just along for the ride. This made us feel like doubly tourists, no jobs on a boat that already had no job. (We had met Joe from Lolalita in the yard at Ferroalquimar, and didn’t initially recognize him out of context, with his family and no hard hat.)

With Lolalita’s two big engines, we didn’t even have to drive. So we just hung out and took pictures as we passed through the locks.

We got out of the lock, de-nested uneventfully, and motored a short way into Gatun lake to tie up to a giant mooring ball. We had dinner, and followed it with a tasting of some Dutch spirits.

We had a relaxed morning as we waited (until 9am) for the canal advisor, and Captain made his rounds of the boat. In the light, you can see how ridiculously large these buoys are. The other two boats had tied to one, while we were left alone on the other.

We saw a crocodile, and Zander noticed a passing boat that had previously transported the boat we were on!

The morning motor was also uneventful. We motored though the lake and into the narrower man-made section of the canal, passing worryingly close to all the big ships coming through much faster than we were. It was strange to be on a boat with such different ergonomics than we’re used to on Villa. See Andrew steering with one fingertip pointed down to the wheel.

At the locks we nested up, just as before, with only light drama. The pilot kept telling Yvette, at the helm, that she had to go faster approaching Lolalita, and she kept saying she wouldn’t be able to slow down. He insisted, and she caved, and then when she couldn’t slow down fast enough he complained about her driving to the other boats. The pilot from the first day was really cool, telling us stories and giving good advice, but this second guy was a jackass. Anyway. On the way up, you follow the big boat in, but coming back down the ship comes in behind you. Since we had no work to do, we busied ourselves taking pictures and enjoying the ride.

And just like that, we were in the Pacific! We were surprised at how soon after the canal the exit point was; it felt very abrupt, like, “Welcome to the Pacific, now get lost.” Sander and Yvette had just cracked open a bottle of bubbly for us when we were approached by the pickup launch. We got dropped off at Balboa Yacht Club with the other line handlers, and called an Uber to our hotel. (Taxis here are easily available, but will charge you arbitrary amounts in cash; Uber is predictable, if sometimes so cheap that we tip just to make the fare feel more fair.) The hotel turned out to be associated with Lazotea where we’d had Patricia’s birthday party, and we popped back up to the rooftop for a complementary welcome G&T. Our last hotel had had a pool and hot tub, and we hadn’t remembered suits; this time, we found that the advertised pool WAS the pool in the middle of the fancy restaurant, and thus not nearly as appealing! Also strange, in the entirely concrete pet-friendly room, the teste-lights, and the glass door both at the entrance and the bathroom. Still, hot water and air conditioning.

After dropping the gear and cat at the hotel, we hauled our hungry selves across the city to meet with Felipe, our shipping agent, and pick up some packages that had arrived from the states. Then it was back to Discovery Center, where we left 21 pounds of specialty washable cat litter and a brand new GoPro with the door guard. We managed to spend over an hour hunting down most of a long list, and made it out before they closed the last gate. Mostly broken humans at this point, we dropped our loot off at the hotel, and wandered out into the streets to find food. We had a nice Peruvian dinner at Nazca 21, with pisco sours, and retired to the hotel to hang with Captain. We were already pretty zonked after sleeping poorly on an unfamiliar boat, so after adding in the errands we were fully wiped and passed out like cats.

We woke up early, like cat-owning sailors, and took cups of hotel coffee out to search for breakfast. Along the way, we found the local cat meetup in the plaza.

As we were about to enter the one cafe that was open at this early hour, a parade passed by. These ladies, and a few gents, had gotten up early to march for equality on the Día de la Mujer. Note the parrot mascot with a giant mask tied on. We were happy to see them, but were a little sad to see the march ending before 8am – equality is important and all but let’s not get crazy and cut into the workday.

We walked back to the hotel, stopping again in the plaza to buy some excellent coffee at Casa Sucre. If we’d only waited half an hour we could have had breakfast there instead… ah well.

Then we packed up our bags and cat, and had the hotel call us a car to Colon. There, we got the driver to stop at a supermarket and wait for us with the cat, and then bring us to Shelter Bay, adding another exorbitant fee to the already exorbitant fare. The most important part of this story: we found yellow lemons, which we hadn’t seen in months. And Dinkus was still fine in the marina, as was Villa in the anchorage.

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