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Days 38-41 Shelter Bay & Colon

Jan. 24 Passage to Colon

Today was a lazy day; we were planning to leave for Colon and the next leg of our trip just before dinner so as to time our arrival during the morning. The San Blas islands have been nice but we are ready for some civilization and are looking forward to a few days of marina life, complete with real showers, restaurants and bars.

The sail up the coast was an exciting broad reach; no more of the side to side rolling we experienced on the way over from St. Lucia, it has been replaced by a forward to back bouncing motion as we sail through the large swell. As we got nearer to the Panama Canal the number and size of the ships we saw increased dramatically, it’s fun to try to identify the type and direction of the ships before checking them out on the AIS. A short rain shower passed through, luckily for me just after I finished my watch, but other than that it was a night spent between steering, looking for ships and admiring the stars free from any light pollution. We were making better time than expected so during the night Dan dropped the main sail to slow us down; we arrived just as the sun was coming up and gingerly made our way through the many large ships motoring around or anchored off the entrance to the canal awaiting their turn to make the transit.

Jan. 25 Shelter Bay Marina

After living aboard for two weeks we were all looking forward to a large breakfast at a restaurant; once Skyelark was tied to the dock we set out in search of a grand meal. Much to our dismay the restaurant didn’t open until 8:00, so good use was made so the spare time by heading for the showers, which are quite luxurious for a marina.

Breakfast was a bit of a disappointment; it was buffet style but there weren’t many choices and the eggs were probably instant, the fruit was great and the coffee strong. After breakfast we did some boat chores, getting her cleaned up and washed off from the long miles we had put on her over the last two weeks. The marina isn’t very big, just one bar/restaurant, a pool and some shops; it does make it easy to run into the other crews though. We all met for lunch, then everyone went off to do laundry, rest or use the wifi.

The restaurant was very crowded, maybe due to the theme dinner, aphrodisiac foods; they also had a live band that played some good romantic tunes to complete the atmosphere. Service was slow for the food but the beers and drinks came at a good enough pace that it didn’t matter. Jan and I were the last ones up again having a few in the cockpit and listening to some smooth jazz on his I-phone.

Jan. 26 Canal tour and a hike through the jungle

The WARC had arraigned for tours of the Gatum Locks for anyone interested; we decided to go since it was only $17 per person including admission and transportation. I had expected them to be a lot wider than they are, the gates are just like the Erie Canal lock near where I live, but more massive. There are two locks, side by side, and when we were there a cruise ship was in one and a freighter and a couple tugs in the other. Seeing it in person really brought home the experience it will be to transit them in Skyelark, she has an air draft of about 72’ so the mast will just stick above the wall when we are at the low water level. A Panamax freighter came in after the other ships had exited to Lake Gatum, they are the largest ships that can fit in the canal, hence their name. From the observation deck you can see both ends of the locks and watch as the locomotives that guide them climb the steep incline; the ships travel under their own power through the canal. A multi lingual guide gives an ongoing presentation of the operation and costs of transiting the locks, the large cruise ship we saw pays in excess of $350,000 for each transit.

After our tour, we returned to the marina for lunch and decided to take a hike to the nearby national park. We walked down the road quite a ways, and that was a little boring not to mention hot. Once we turned off the road onto a trail it became much more interesting, the thick jungle trees all around us.

We followed the trail to the coast where there were a large coral flats, we had been warned about swimming by some folks we passed due to jelly fish being present. Some young Irish lads, who are crewing on one of the other WARC yachts, were having a cookout on the beach to celebrate Australia Day (wish I thought of that) so we spoke with them a while before making our way back. We could here howler monkeys in the forest, and got to see a bunch of them towards the end of our hike. We also spotted some beautiful butterflies and birds along the way.

Tonight was movie night at the marina, put on by the Yellow Shirts; the movie was Titanic (we treid to get them to switch to Captain Ron, but had no luck). It was an interesting experience, the sound wasn’t perfectly synced up and the make shift screen blew over at one point. It was a good night, especially since the Sunday happy hour runs to 9:30, and once the festivities were over we called it a night.

January 27, Provisioning Day

We had arraigned for a taxi into Colon to do the provisioning for the next two legs, since groceries will be expensive in the Galapagos Islands. Some folks from another yacht joined us and the driver dropped them and Jan off at the Free Trade Zone to look around for an hour or so before meeting us at the mall. The Free Trade Zone is said to be the second largest in the world, second only to Hong Kong (I think), it would take the better part of a day to see all of the nearly 1000 shops located there.

Grocery shopping is a team effort as we filled about 6 carts with everything imaginable, hats off to the cashier and bag boy who kept up the pace as we had an assembly line loading the belt at the checkout. It was a pleasant surprise to find they had whole beef tenderloins for $30-$40 and skirt steak in the butcher case for $2.65 a pound.

Once back at the marina the process was reversed as everything had to be passed down below and stowed away, I was given the task of vacuum sealing all the fresh meat in package suitable for meals for eight. It is amazing the amount of stuff that can be crammed into such a small space and with some semblance of order so it can be retrieved when needed without tearing everything out.

I had picked up some cheviche at the mall earlier, so after the work was done I skipped lunch and took another walk to the forest. I want to well versed in using my new zoom camera when I get to Galapagos, and hadn’t had much opportunity to do so since I am leery of taking it in the dingy. A family of monkeys was playing in the trees along the road, howling like a pack of wild dogs each time a car passed. They didn’t pay us much attention as they swung from tree to tree. There were some small ones there and one so tiny it rode on it’s mothers back. I kept taking pictures until my battery ran out.

We had our pre-transit dinner aboard tonight; Vigo, who is on the next leg joined us as he is also making the transit with us tomorrow. Dan cooked up one of the tenderloins with some cauliflower, corn on the cob and french fries. Dessert was bananas flambe’ served in the dark of the cockpit. Numerous bottles of wine were consumed and naturally some rum was also in the mix. We all went to bed thinking of what a once in a lifetime experience we will have tomorrow.