Panama Channel Test Passage with the Rusalka of the Seas
“What, on Wednesday already? We will never make that!” I nervously shout out to Reto, when we tells me on Monday evening that we can join our Mexican friends on the Rusalka in their canal passage as line handlers. There is still so much to do before the arrival of my sister and her boy friend Markus, but somehow we make it and on Wednesday morning we sit in the bus to Colon where the Rusalka is anchored in front of the Club Nautico.
Just in time we think, but a first plan change gives us more time and we first enjoy a lunch on board of Rusalka.
Then we move to the flats, the place to wait for the pilot to board.
He arrives a bit late but then Marc has to push the engine of Rusalka to catch up with another boat, but after 30 minutes of passage it is clear that we don’t catch up.
So out again to the flats, a few hours waiting, then back in again. It is already around 9 pm, when we move in the first of the chambers tied up in bundle with a catamaran.
Before us is a really big ship, with only 30 cm space on each side and 50 cm on the bottom. Therefore he has to move very carefully to give the water time to pass in the little space. As a result it is well after midnight until we get out of the 3rd of the locks into the Gatun lake.
Since the Rusalka needs a pilot due to her size (instead of an advisor for smaller vessels) and the pilots need to change in Gamboa the order is given to continue to Gamboa with the first pilot during the night. Well, poor guys I think to myself and go to sleep…
The next day the catamaran passes us around 10 am, but we wait until the second pilot until 1 pm. It almost seems as if someone has forgotten us…
When we go into the first of the 3 chambers going down, the Pedro Miguel lock, we have to wait for the big ship behind us and first of all have lunch – what an amazing setting being attached in the front of the locks!
Then we cross the lake and wait in the Miraflores locks for “our” big ship to come, and everybody becomes excited – the Pacific is only two locks away and already in sight.
Then the last doors open, Rusalka moves out into the Pacific waters and anchors in front of the Marina Playita. Time to wash down the impressions with “more or less” beer, wine and mescal 😉
Impressive the whole process and a good idea to do it once before passing with the own ship.
Provisioning in Panama City
The next day it is hard to say good bye to our friends, but there is still a lot to do for us. We do some important shopping like a new gaff (the old one broke into pieces with the last larger fish…) and start the supermarket runs to get the supplies for the next couple of weeks.
My sister and her boy friend Markus arrive on time and we are happy that everything works out well.
The next morning we get picked up by Jorge who first of all drives us to the fresh produce market, the largest market I have ever seen in my life! But there is not a lot of time to look around,we have to really hurry, otherwise we don’t see the ships in the locks at the canal museum.
We arrive there just before 10 am and are lucky to see the last two ships passing in the morning. Also the museum and the film are very interesting.
With another supermarket stop in Sabanitas we arrive back in the Panamarina, of course in the middle of some heavy rainfalls..
Via Turtle Cay to Chichime, San Blas
The next day we take it slow and move only 12 miles to the Turtle Cay Marina, good to get our guests used to the boat and to shorten the passage to the San Blas islands.
Because from now in we don’t dare to move into new anchorages at any time during the day, now it becomes important the the sun is behind and visibility helps the navigation.
We understand from another cruiser that during the last year 25 yachts were lost in this area, we hope that we will be able to avoid this…
Our first anchorage in San Blas, the autonomous region of the Guna Yala indians, is Chichime islands.
We are impressed by the beauty of the islands full with coconut palms, white beaches, the fishermen in their dugout canoes, the noise of the birds, the pelicans hunting for their fish, the warm water, but most of all we are impressed by the friendly and very polite way of the Guna indians approaching us.
The one or the other canoe or boat comes up to us to offer fish, lobster or molas, the typical embroidery done by the Guna (mostly by the women). But if you don’t need anything you only need to say so and they leave you alone.
Swimming Pool anchorage in the Holandes Cays
Next stop are the Holandes Cays together with our friends from the Pura Vida.
The ancorage is called “Swimming Pool Anchorage” and is directly in front of a small island called BBQ Island 😉
Unfortunately the results of the global warning can be seen directly, the beach became much smaller and the volley ball field is fully submerged…
We enjoy it nevertheless, go snorkeling and get invited to a Cevice made out of freshly caught fish on the Pura Vida.
Then we move to the the Coco Bandeiro Cays, which are said to be of the most picturesque islands of San Blas.
Especially we like Olosicuidup with only two huts and with a lot of sea stars in the clear water in front of it. The fishermen Ranchel and Paulino live here, we buy our first lobsters from them, hmm, what a treat!
Unfortunately also this beautiful island is being polluted by the plastic thrown into the ocean and suffering from erosion.
The neighbor island Tiadup on the other hand is developed into a tourist accommodation, half of the palm trees had to move to give space for the huts but on the other hand the beach is being eaten by the sea…
We go snorkeling to the “Two Palm Island”, where nowadays only half a palm is left. There are nice coarals and fish, but as it becomes a bit windy, we hurry up to move out and for the first time really hit a rock. The result is a lost fin and a broken propeller but with two hours work and the spare propeller the engine is working again.
Hiding from Tropical Storm Otto
Then on Sunday afernoon it is time to move into the mangroves, the tropical depression forming into the tropical Storm Otto, so we hide close to Nargana / Yandup.
Contrary to the forecast of Monday evening Otto moves further southwest during the night to Tuesday and we are happy to stay in our mangroves with gust of only 20 knots and no waves.
Only few day later we read in the San Blas cruisers forum that in Puerto Lindo several yachts and in Portobello a total of 19 yachts have sunk to due to Otto!!!
On Wednesday we move back west to the Lemmon Cays to spend one more night out there before we have to say good bye to Gaby and Markus who are picked up on time by the water taxi in order to go back to Panama city.
We move back to Chichime and meet again our friends from Pura Vida. Also we spend some time profiting from the well working telephone net which gives us access to internet before we plan to explore more of Guna Yala in the next few weeks.