Granada, Los Roques (Venezuela), ABC islands, Colombia, San Blas Islands to Panama
Granada to Los Roques (Venezuela)
Having had the most fabulous time here in Granada, we shocked our Norwegian sailor friends by saying, not only will we leave on a Friday (bad superstitions in Norway) but will be leaving on Friday 13th (Double trouble bad luck in Norway!).
We cast off with help from Steve and Amanda. I was very nervous about my first night watches alone, but once established with twin head sails and steady 20 knot winds from behind, we had a good night. We spoke with "Ohana" all the way as they had left with us. I felt sad to leave Fiona and Don behind, but we may catch up later. I know I will see Liz and Gordon again in both Spain and Helensburgh. Woke on Valentine's day for my watch and gave Gordon his card. Believe it or not he had one for me also!
The sea state is awful. Rolly and big. However coping so far. On Sunday 25th February we had some squalls with wind gusting up to 25 knots. I was sitting on deck in a state of undress, as one does, in 32 deg C when a Venezuelan air force aircraft buzzed us very low past our beam. Their fault, I will not be held responsible for trauma to crew.
We left Granada in a light easterly for Los Roques, a Venezuelan archipelago, a distance of 290 nm. I was expecting 20 knot winds and 6 to 7 foot waves. We started slow but with the twin headsails then the wind picked up. We spoke to 'Ohana' who left an hour before us and kept in touch on Ch 77. Friday night progress was good with Anne doing her first night watches alone. In fact Anne was coping extremely well in the quite rolly conditions. We were both very aware that we were sailing in pirate territory and were wary of each boat we saw. 'Ohana' kept contact on the radio but were dropping behind. On Sunday morning we saw huge black clouds behind us and at 0715 a squall with very heavy rain hit us. During the squall the wind veers by about 90 degrees and increases, then after the squall has passed the wind gradually reverts to an easterly, all within about 30 minutes. During the heavy rain we just go below to shelter, let the boat turn 90 degrees on its own with the wind powered autopilot and then as the squall passes, let the boat return to our westerly course, without adjusting anything. Then go back up top as the sun comes out. We arrived at El Gran Roque, the main island of the archipelago, at 1300 on Sunday in 50.5 hours a worthy average speed of 5.7 knots. This was the very first time that Anne had done night watches alone and the longest distance with just the two of us and Anne surprised herself at how well she did, but I knew she could do it!!
End of Gordon's bit
Los Roques, Venezuela
We arrived at El Gran Roque at 1300 hrs. Absolutely beautiful island. Turquoise seas, white sands and dozens of pelicans diving for fish and bobbing about on the water. They outnumber the people since the population of the island is only 160.
Gordon went off to check-in but having gone to all the trouble of gaining a visa in Granada at the Venezuelan Embassy, we were told in no uncertain terms that we could only stay one night. This was after checking-in with the coastguard, the National Guard and the Parks authority. The Coastguard (not as we know them!) are in charge and wear guns and when we tried to plead our case the following day for an extension of another 24 hours, it was obvious we were not welcome. They did let us stay till 10am the next day when we claimed a generator problem, but certainly would have got nasty if we had pushed for more.
We were finally allowed to come ashore and found a beautiful colourful two street village. Once again the houses were painted in a riot of colours and the streets are just sand. We found a great beach restaurant where we had excellent fish for lunch.
Sitting on the boat we had great entertainment just watching the pelicans and noticed that if a boat was unattended they will quickly perch on every available rail, and enjoy sitting out back on the dinghy, looking for all the world as if they are coming back from the pub.
In general it seems these islands are where Venezuelans come for holidays. Many of the buildings were small boarding houses or hotels. The airstrip, with its 'garden shed' like terminal building, seemed to be very busy.
On Tuesday morning, to avoid being arrested, we upped anchor and sailed a couple of miles to an anchorage on the next island called Francisquis. This is a mangrove cay with the typical trees trailing long roots into the water which of course is very clear with coral esily visible. "Ohana" was here as well. We went ashore onto the most amazing white beach, snorkelled, picnicked and walked out on a sandbank for a long way surrounded by shallow water and coral. We saw many lizards here, bigger than geckos but not as large as iguanas. They seemed quite tame, coming close to us to have a good look.
We had a lovely evening on "Ohana" with Holger, Susanne and their two and a half year old daughter Mailer. I tried to read her a bed-time story, which of course was in German, and she was very amused by my pronunciation. She really liked my animal impersonations though!
We set off next morning (Wednesday 18th) into big seas and squalls up to 35 knots with lashing rain. This continued for most of the trip and we anchored in Barlovento, Isla Sur, for a couple of nights. These are unpopulated islands which offer good shelter to us poor souls. This was also the spot where, since no distractions, I managed to write up the previous blog relating to the Easter Caribbean leg of the trip.
Oh yes, while we were sailing her we heard "Fido" radioing their friends and spoke with them. They were in Los Roques so we missed them, but will see them in Bonaire, great!
We headed for Bonaire, which is one of the ABC islands (Netherlands Antilles), a trip of 60 nautical miles, in an easterly 10 - 12 knots wind so raised the main, and as an experiment fitted a sheave on the end of the boom for the genoa sheet. This worked on 0-20deg wind but only just. When the winds picked up and moved to right behind us we took down the main, managing to pull out the lazy jack in the process. So frantic retrieval of sail and use of sail ties to regain some degree of modicum of tidiness!
The sight of Bonaire was quite bizarre after the very hilly forest covered islands of the east Caribbean we were used to. We approached along a flat treeless landscape, in fact, very Dutch! The buildings are modern and the whole place looks prosperous. We tied up at 1730 hrs in a marina surrounded by holiday apartments and could have been anywhere in Europe!
The next morning (Saturday 21st Feb) Fiona appeared with Don and it was lovely to see them. Gordon was at the office signing-in. When he came back, he and Don had to assist another boat, which had no functioning engine, to move in the marina. They did a lovely job nudging it into the pontoon with the dinghy. We decided to turn "Equinox" around so we could hoist the main sail and repair the lazyjack. Don and Fiona gave us a hand, but we were making a real dog's dinner of reversing in. After the sixth time Don shouted from the pontoon "You know you still have the rudder in the Hydrovane?" No wonder it was difficult.
We had a lovely time in town with our Canadian friends plus their friends John and Claire (Boat "C'est ci bon"). That night we dinghied back into town in the dark, weaving our way through many moored boats and I was struck by a flying fish on the way. Sharp little so and so's. There was a great "jump-in" at a local bar/restaurant where Don won first prize in a customised T-shirt competition. He looked very stunning in his creation I must say.
We were lucky enough to be here during the Mardi Gras which started with a fabulous parade on Sunday 22nd Feb. The procession took about an hour to go by and the floats and costumes were stunning. Many of the costumes are so big they have wheels on them. The music is loud and involves drums and whistles. The whole Mardi Gras thing is quite sinister with chracters portraying the devil and strange caricatures of old slave owners. The whole process culminated in the Shrove Tuesday parade at the end of which an effigy of "Dr MoMo" (the devil) is burned. The figure had piercing blue lights for eyes and these continued to shine in a very spooky way even as the fireworks exploded out of the body for many minutes. It burned fiercely until eventually just a strange metal frame was left, then the eyes went out. So Lent began. Immediately after this everyone went home and the town just died. No celebrating beyond midnight. We jumped on the back of a float with a huge cake structure on it to hitch a lift to town. No-one seemed to mind the presence of six, slightly inebriated yachties singing away as we weaved through the park exit, but suddenly we noticed we were heading out of town, not towards it, so leapt off.When we were boarding our dinghies (3 in the morning) we heard that most dreadful of sounds - SPLASH, followed by hysterical giggling. Claire had missed the dinghy and was now in the water in her best clothes. We all joined in the giggling before realising we should really be doing something about getting her out. Gordon (bless him) leapt to the rescue and hauled the dripping wee soul onto the dock. None the worse, if a little damp, she was plonked into her dinghy and we went home.
On Wednesday we hired a minibus and with Don at the wheel we set off to explore the island. Half on hour later we still couldn't find the road, but eventually made our way towards the salt flats and lagoon to see the flamingos. They were a bit scarce today and only one or two were close enough to be photographed.
All along the coast road there were very strange sculptures which had been made from driftwood and washed up rubbish. Again there was a touch of voodoo about them. There are huge piles of dead coral strewn everywhere. The whole island is in fact coral! We also visited the old slave quarters by the salt flats where the slaves were housed during work there. Tiny little structures. Very poingnant.
The whole island is covered in long high cacti, a new vegetation to us. They use it cunningly to create extremely secure fencing around houses and fields.
We stopped at a little café in a village where after the worst glass of wine ever (home made I think) the owner gave us his website address! Remember we are talking about a wooden shack and rickety tables and chairs with palm trees for a roof.
We had lunch in a very quirky Dutch owned beach restaurant next to a "naturist" hotel. Fortunately they had high fences, so appetites were preserved for lunch! It was a lovely day and thanks to Don and Fiona for organising it. By the way the fish cake recipe in the last blog is loosely based on Fiona's which we enjoyed very much during an earlier paryty on "Equinox". Claire brought a stunning spinach salad and I cooked a chilli.
On Thursday Don and Fiona decided to move on to St. Marten, so another sad farewell. I do hate saying these goodbyes to special people we have become very fond of in a short space of time.
We left here for Curacao on Saturday so spent Friday in the usual flurry of activity before sailing. We also managed to send that last blog.
This is the C in ABC islands, so as you can see we are doing B, C, A (The A is Aruba). Left Bonaire at 0900 and arrived in Spanish Waters, Curacao at 1530, a distance of 38 miles. We entered Spanish Water through a very narrow shallow channel and came into an incredible bay surrounded by movie-star homes with private beaches. The only yacht pontoon slips belong to either a private club, no spaces, or a very rickety pontooned and neglected marina, no thanks. So prepared to anchor in a very crowded area. Just decided to drop anchor when the remote control ceased to function. Moved to cockpit and dropped anchor using secondary controls there. Later found a broken corroded wire in unit. Gordon went off in the dinghy to explore the bay while I prepared dinner.
Once again we are surrounded, as in Bonaire, by Dutch people, and what a well kept secret this place is! Unlike every other destination there seemed to be no source of information so we headed next day for a bus stop to go into Willemstaad, the main town, to visit customs, but no bus came! Ended up instead in a fisherman's café where we had a fabulous roti lunch and went back to the boat. A Dutch yachtie came by for a chat and lent us a map. He also made some useful notes for us about transport and internet etc. We gather a lot of the people around us are "liveaboards" who don't move from here.
Eventually we managed to catch a "big bus" into Willemstaad on Monday 2nd March and after hanging around in Customs for clearance explored the many interesting little back streets and squares in this busy port.
The façade of the main streets which line either side of the river are a confection of Dutch design buildings, some like wedding cakes, they are so intricately decorated. A 100 year old pontoon swing bridge spans the river and opens and closes all day long to allow sea traffic in and pedestrians to cross.
This is a very meaningful place for us, since during the War Gordon's father was on oil tankers here. While he was home on leave, his ship was torpedoed by a U-boat and all hands lost, just here outside Willemstaad. A sobering thought. We rang him at home to let him know where we were and he described the pontoon swing bridge in detail and was amazed that it was still working.
On a lighter note I found a few shops with fantastic clothes for very little money. However didn't buy any. Think I must be ill, or I've lost my shopping gene.
We had dinner in a very Dutch restaurant - all outdoors - and full of young Dutch people.
We realised that today marks the 250th day of our voyage. It feels like a very long time since we sailed out of Port Edgar!
On Wednesday 4th March we headed out of Spanish Water in pitch darkness at 0330. We used our "track" in to manoeuvre out which worked well. The wind dropped in the afternoon so for the first time in ages we had to put the engine on for a good part of the journey.
When we contacted the marina they advised us to clear customs at Bareadera, a port nearby. The water was very shallow, so we had to raft up against a Venezuelan fishing boat. While Gordon was in the customs office a couple of huge waves hit the boats and I found myself trying to control the effects. The fishing boat was rearing up and over us to the point where I feared for our mast and equipment. The fisherman had tied our bow line close to their anchor which was hanging close to their bow, but the anchor dislodged in the pitching and tossing, swinging and hanging from our bow line perilously close to "Equinox". I yelled to them for help and when they saw what had happened they retrieved the anchor and then disappeared! Of course by the time Gordon returned all was as before and he couldn't understand why I seemed a bit 'upset'.
We headed up to Orangestad to the Renaissance Marina and did one of those drop anchor, reverse in, and throw lines off stern jobs. Phew! We were all tied up by 1730. The Marina is actually owned and run by the Renaissance Hotel and the Marina manager, a Dutchman, did an excellent job of talking us in and welcoming us on the pontoon. Hotel services in a marina! Pluses are obvious: laundry, spa, shops, excellent maintenance and picturesque. Minuses: you can't hang up laundry on boat, and we're surrounded by casinos.
Next day we explored Orengestad which is largely about servicing the needs of the many cruise ships which call in here. The shopping ranges from cheap and cheerful to large malls full of all the worlds designer shops. As in the other two islands, Bonaire and Curacao, the restaurants and bars seem all to be staffed by Dutch people. But the tourists here are in the main Americans. You would be forgiven for thinking you had been mysteriously transported to Middle America. The roads are lined with "Taco Bell" and "Wendy's", "McDonalds" and "KFC", and when we went to a large supermarket called "Lings" the aisles were stuffed with every American product imaginable. So Aruba is a bit schizophrenic, torn between Dutch and American culture.
It is also very beautiful and we met the most wonderful American and Canadian people who have been coming to their timeshare here for 30 years. They have formed the most amazing "family" network between themselves and welcomed Gordon and I into this family with open arms and the kindest of hearts. We laughed so hard with Judy from Canada and Dan from America, who although their parents had been friends for many years out here, had only got together a few days before we arrived. To all of you fabulous people a huge thank you for sharing your time with us. We will never forget you and hopefully we will keep in touch. We shared fantastic afternoons with these dear people in their wee niche between the bar and the apartment complex. They are so glamorous and full of life and forgive me for saying my friends' names (apart from Judy and Dan who are younger than us) not a day under 70+. Their joy in life and open midedness made us feel they were contemporaries.
One of the stunning facilities of this marina was a shock to us. Whilst in the hotel foyer we thought we might have a drink but suddenly we spotted a little inlet from the sea - in the middle of the hotel foyer. Lo and behold a boat came sailing right in and takes you to an island offshore owned by the hotel. It stops off at the end of our pontoon also but there is something so bizarre and romantic about stepping onto a boat inside a hotel. It scootes out, banging round some tight corners and goes under the main road into the bay, and 15 minutes later, and a little sprayed, you tie up against a pontoon on a perfect, palm treed, Caribbean island. The first shock was the number of huge iguanas wandering about unfased by human presence and ready to eat your foot off (thank goodness they are vegie!). Next shock crossing a little bridge and seeing the brightest blue fish ever alongside loads of "Nimos" and angel fish. The next shock, and Don and Fiona I have to tell you this, flamingos, seven in all, coming up to take food from your hands. We lay on sunbeds and had a problem keeping them away from our lunch! When you think of the 45 minutes trudging across donkey pooh and stinking mud in Bonaire to see the flamingos miles off! You have to go to Aruba you guys. Enjoy the photos.
We bought a set of two way radios to help with anchoring, because there is usually a lot of wind noise, plus engine on and an element of panic about the whole process. So we will see if this improves the situation.
At this point, in Aruba, I managed to get a stinking cold which felt exactly the same as a stinking cold in Scotland. But it is now Tuesday 10th March, so well or not we have to move on.
Our North American friends came to the boat and brought their cocktails and a bucket of ice. These people don't take chances! A word to all you so called oldies, all of them got on board except my wheelchair bound friend who sat on the pontoon, beer in hand. They were considerate enough to leave the boat at 5pm since they knew I still had to cook and prepare for two nights and days at sea. Many tears were shed in the parting. You people are the best ever ambassadors for your country!
I went to bed, full of the cold, knowing that I have to be up at 0530am for a 48 hour sail, an anchorage, and more sailing.
Aruba to Cartagena
Departed marina at 0655 and as we passed the apartments saw Judy's parents waving from the grounds! Had a good day's sailing with following current of between 1.4 and 2.3 knots. At one point we made 9 knots SOG (Speed Over Ground).
By 0705 hrs on Thursday morning we had covered 160 nm in 24 hours i.e. 6.67 knots average.
We had planned to tie up overnight in Riohacha (Colombia) but it was so exposed and the wind gusting up to 28 knots that we decided to go on to Five Bays further along the coast. This meant another 12 hours at sea and arriving in the dark, neither prospect making me a happy bunny!
No sooner was the decision made (by Gordon) we headed back out into a huge sea and very high winds which kept up all the way to the anchorage. When we spotted the bay it looked ideal, with a very long sheltered approach, with high mountains on both sides, to a lonely wide bay at the end. However we experienced the fiercest katabatic winds gusting from 2 knots to 20 knots in one second, lasting 10 seconds maximum. It was like being hit by a train every minute.
Got to bed at 0330am but didn't sleep much for thinking about whether the anchor would hold. Then realised it was Friday 13th!!
On Saturday morning we awoke to find we were surrounded by small habitations perched on the hillside all around the bay. A very remote and poor place. We upped anchor at midday to head for Cartagena straight into 4 to 5 metre waves and winds gusting up tp 45 knots. Overnight the wind and seastate lessened gradually so that we arrived in Cartagena in delightful 1 metre waves and had to put the engine on.
On approaching Cartagena we passed many lone fishermen in dug-out canoes all waving and bobbing about very close to the marked channel. We called into the marina when we were within range and a very non Colombian sounding chap gave us instructions for tying up. In fact he was Scottish although had not been there since he was a boy. (A Dundonian named John) He is married to a Colombian and now manages the marina. He was talking to us in, saying "I'm the guy in the bright green shirt and yellow baseball cap." I said that I hoped his marina was better than his dress sense!
They use a strange system here whereby you reverse in to a very high jetty, you throw two aft lines to helpers then a diver comes out and takes two fore lines down to tie to a mooring underwater, leaving you stranded on the boat until they bring planks of wood to tie to the jetty. These planks stop well short of the boat, so terrifying situation No. 346 comes into play.
The town itself was a great surprise, with beautiful 500 year old buildings, very well preserved and Spanish in style. We enjoyed a carriage ride around the narrow cobbled streets and dined in a fabulous restaurant overlooking the ancient town square. Gordon said he had the best fillet mignon ever! We did not feel the least bit threatened in this "gun running" Colombia although I believe the interior is a different matter.
Every morning we were awakened by a lady carrying a huge basket on her head shouting "Bananas! Melone! Papaya!" as she strolled up and down the pontoons. We also found there was no boat related job you couldn't have done here, instantly and cheaply. Had a slight moment when the army appeared in the marina carrying guns and began to board random boats for inspection. However they were polite enough to remove their boots first which somehow detracted from their 'Action Man' image. Incidentally Gordon heard that he had won a trophy for the best log, of the Spitsbergen trip, awarded by the Moody Owners Club. Looks like a nice big trophy but we will never see it since it has to be handed back after one year.
Our original plan had been to go straight from Cartagena to Panama, entailing a straight 290 mile trip, but changed our minds and instead decided to go to Isla Pinas in the San Blas Islands, a distance of 155 miles. We left on Thursday 19th March at 1130 am.
San Blas Islands, Panama
We arrived in Isla Pinas on Friday 20th March at 1230 having done a maximum speed of 8.76 knots. The lazy jack broke again as we lowered the main sail. The local name for this wee island is Tupbak which means 'whale' and is exactly what the island looks like from a distance. All the buildings except the school and missionary church are bamboo walled and grass roofed.
When we went ashore we first had to meet the Chief of the Kuna on the island, who sat in state in his porch and nodded and grunted while his second in command or P.M. interpreted for us. This P.M. was called Horatio Martinez and typical of the Kuna people was a towering 5'1". (The women average about 4'8" to 4'10".) He was probably about 70 years old. The population of the island is approximately 150 and each family has a sleeping house and a separate cooking house. Horatio took us to his home, and the sleeping house contained about 10 hammocks of various sizes, and earth floor, and piles of clothes everywhere. The cooking house was in full swing with a huge pot boiling away on a fire in the middle of the room. (Fortunately they gave up cannibalism about 100 years ago!) Horatio's wife, daughter, her mother-in-law and the children all busy cooking or playing. We soon gathered a crowd of children when word got around - in about 2 minutes - that there were sweets in our bags.
The women sew beautiful panels called 'Molas' which form the front and back of blouses. These are worn with long embroidered skirts and wide sashes round their waists. They sell these Molas for about 15 to 20 US$ - a lot of money by Kuna standards, but hours of work goes into them.
The main income and work is from fishing and selling coconuts to the Colombians.
We mentioned to Horatio that we required a man to go up our mast. (To retrieve the broken lazy jack and I couldn't winch Gordon up and I was not volunteering.) He said " Does this man have to be strong?" I said "No, but he needs to be brave." He said such a man was available and no more was said until he was escorting us back to the dinghy. Eventually I said "Horatio, are you the man?" He said "I am the man." Don't forget he is at least 70 and very small. I think it was the word "brave" that settled it. So he came back with us and we hauled him easily up the mast. We offered him 5 US$ and two pens which delighted him. The pens are essential to people filling in his visitor's book and very hard to come by.
That afternoon I was busy below deck when a dugout canoe came alongside and a Kuna Indian pointed a gun at Gordon! He thought all our worst nightmares had come true, until the guy explained that he needed two screws to fix it. When Gordon came below and explained to me what was going on, I said he was nuts, the chap could fix it then shoot us. But it was all very innocent and the gun was for hunting monkeys and other wildlife. We gave him the screws and he left smiling happily.
Over the next few days we sailed and inched our way from one island to another - charts are very poor, so pilotage essential - and found the same smiling happy Kuna Indians on all these San Blas Islands. I bought some Molas from Kuna women in Chichime Cays where there were many very small islands of 5 or fewer families.
For me the San Blas Islands have been a real highlight. For the first time we have felt like intrepid explorers and Thomson Holidays definitely do not come here. The people are living as they have done for hundreds of years and are not interested in mainland life. Wonderful. I was almost reluctant to tell you about them.
On Tuesday 24th March we departed at 0845 for a small bay which lay half way between Chichime Cays and Colon, called 'Ensenado Indio'. This was very picturesque but one of the bounciest anchorages yet.
Next morning we headed for Shelter Bay Marina in Colon and came out of the bay into a pretty big sea. This quickly settled to a pleasant downwind sail in 18 - 20 knot wind and came into Panama, Shelter Bay at 1545. Astonishing number of huge vessels anchored in the main bay, wanting to head through the canal.
Once we tied up in the marina (Oh bliss, first marina in ages!) Gordon contacted Stanley Scott our Panamanian Agent who quickly sorted us out with lines, line handlers and big rubber tyres to use as canal fenders and the 101 other things required for the canal transit.
We are tied up next to "Ohana" our German friends. Lovely to see them again.
On Thursday 26th we went into Colon city to arrange our visas at the immigration office. The city is a soulless awful place which reeks of deprivation and sewage. The people look desperate and intimidating and we did not need a second warning from Stanley when he said under no circumstances should we go here unaccompanied. After being fingerprinted and reluctantly cleared by a very sour faced officer, we were driven to a supermarket in a large shopping mall, where every shop had an armed guard on the door.
Next morning Jan Eirik and his wife arrived to go through the canal with us. Jan Eirik had originally been scheduled to do the Pacific crossing with Gordon, but Elisabet decided she would like to do this leg and we agreed, although we could not find anyone else to replace him.
One of the rucksacks had gone missing en-route. We spent the afternoon hanging around the marina pool. In fact apart from essential provisioning that formed the pattern for the next few days.
In the evenings before the sun went down we walked 5 minutes from the marina and found ourselves in dense jungle surrounded by monkeys, antelope, parrots, snakes and other exotic creatures. One of the breeds of monkey is called a Howler monkey and is aptly named since its blood-curdling howl frequently woke us. We also saw Capuchin monkeys with their cute furry faces and all this right next to the marina.
Interestingly, in spite of the marina having excellent facilities the owner was a real Basil Fawlty who was rude beyond belief to his customers. In fact for two days there was chaos when all the staff and managers walked out unannounced. One of the problems is that since the ancient "Panama Yacht Club" was forcibly closed one week prior to our arrival there is no competition. The bulldozers just came in and flattened it.
Transiting the Panama Canal
On Monday 30th March Rudi, our line handler came aboard at 1545 to prepare for departure at 1730.
When we filled in the forms for transit a huge emphasis is placed on how you will look after the line handlers and pilots. They must have sealed bottled water, lunch, dinner and accommodation. Also a separate loo which in our case is not possible, we only have one.
At 1730 we motored to" the flats" where yachts wait to pick up their pilot. Ours didn't come on board until 1945 when we lifted anchor and motored the 3.5 miles to the first lock (Gatun Lock). We were rafted up to a French catamaran and in brilliant flood lighting went through the three locks, each 8 m high, at night. En-route I served up a Moroccan lamb curry with saffron rice and raita, which the line handler and pilot raved about.
We were behind a huge container ship and three other yachts, one being "Mikado" an Australian owned boat which had also done the ARC. We emerged from the locks at 2330 and were guided to a mooring in the lake for the night, where the pilot was ferried off the boat. Rudi elected to sleep in the cockpit.
We were up at 0630 and the new pilot came on board at 0745. The first thing he said was "I hear you are a very good cook, so I am looking forward to lunch." No pressure then.
We headed off for the next locks which were 24 miles across the manmade lake. It's a strange environment with alligators swimming about and the tops of trees poking above the water. Strict channels are observed since the submerged forest can cause problems.
Again lunch was a roaring success with chicken and roast vegetable pasta, spinach and pine nut salad and lovely Norwegian open sandwiches, courtesy of Elisabet. We were rafted up against "Mikado" for the next part of the canal, in daylight this time of course and we motored through chatting and having a lovely time waving to the people on the visitor's viewing platform.
The last gates opened at 1325 and there was the Pacific Ocean at last, looking - well - pacific, thank goodness.
The whole experience was terrific, and the canal a stunning example of man's ability to overcome huge odds. I was of course humbled to think of how many people died in creating it, mostly due to malaria.
We anchored in a bay called Playita de Amador. The whole canal trip was 31.77 miles and took 11.3 hours.