s/y Nine of Cups
Return to Panama
January-June 2008
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Our trip from the Manatee River (Tampa Bay, Florida) to Panama took us around the
western end of Cuba through the Yucatan Straits and almost directly south to Cristobal,
the port on the Caribbean side and north end of the Panama Canal. The trip lasted a fairly
pleasant 10 days and we logged a total of 1258 miles.

We arrived early in the morning after having rudder problems about 8 hours out. David
was able to temporarily fix the problems and we anchored in the designated anchorage
"F", known by cruisers as "the Flats". We hoisted the "Q" flag, tidied up Cups and went
for a nap. The adrenaline rush of having been in the midst of heavy Canal traffic minutes
before did nothing to inhibit our sleeping and we were out in no time.
We completed all the necessary check-in
visits and then contacted Shelter Bay Marina
across the Canal in Limon Bay to arrange a
haul-out for "Cups" while we left for a couple
months to sail our friend's boat,
Sadko, from
Ushuaia to Uruguay.
Shelter Bay didn't even exist the last time we
passed through the
Panama Canal (2003). It
is located on the grounds of the old Ft.
Sherman, a US Army base and Jungle Ops
Training Center until 1999.
The environs of Shelter Bay were
wonderful. Dense mangrove lined the shores
with views of the ships waiting to transit.
Cups was in need of more than just bottom
paint. She needed to have years of bottom
paint stripped off and sanded down. We
thought we added a bit of abstract artistic
flair to the boatyard with her "coat of many
colors".  (mixed metaphors??)
The stripping was done before we left for
Ushuaia. However, once we returned our
work was cut out for us. It was hot and
sweaty and the work was dirty and nasty.
Once the hull was properly stripped,
repaired, filled and sanded, she got two
coats of a barrier interface coat.
Folks asked if  we were leaving her
yellow... NOT!  Ah, two final coats of
black bottom paint and Cups was looking
terrific again.
One question we had when moving to
Shelter Bay since it's on the opposite
side of the Canal from Colon was how
do you get back across the Canal?
There are no bridges in the area
Unbeknownst to us, there is a single lane
swing bridge which spans the Gatun
Locks.When there is no ship traffic,
vehicles pass from one side to the other.
This was a whole new view of the locks
we had never seen before as we traveled
on the Shelter Bay mini-bus across the
locks several times a week.
Parque Nacional San Lorenzo was within easy walking distance from the marina. Our favorite time
for walks was dawn and dusk. We watched huge troops of howler monkeys cavort in the jungle
canopy and when we couldn't see them, we could certainly hear their roars! We saw agoutis and
coatimundis. We bought a Panama Wildlife Guide to help us in the identification of those we
weren't sure of. Anteaters ambled through the boatyard and sloths hung from trees. We spotted
caiman in the swamps while riding in the mini-bus to town and more than once stopped the bus to
let a snake or sloth or coatimundi cross the road. Brightly colored birds swooped overhead and we
could hear toucans and parrots.  Since the area had previously been a US Army base, many
abandoned buildings and structures remained, but the jungle had worked quickly to reclaim its own.
We wandered along paths and dirt roads close to the marina and found old concrete bunkers. It
was eerie roaming through these old buildings wrapped in vines and housing all variety of critters.
Howler monkeys roared like lions.
Kiskadees woke us each morning
with their distinctive song.
Our good friends, Fay Moore & Doug Grimm had been planning to linehandle
through the Panama Canal with us since Fall 2007. Former cruisers themselves,
they understood the vagaries of sailing and the changes inherent in trying to
schedule. Finally, in June all was a go. Nine of Cups was back in the water and we
had a firm transit date. They had only a week, but what a week it was!

Midst getting "Cups" ready for the actual transit, we took a day to show them
Colon. Now, Colon is not the prettiest city in the world, but it does have character!
Fay picks out Kuna fabric as a souvenir.
A draft beer at the legendary Panama
Canal Yacht Club still costs 75 cents and
Oscar still tends bar.
The remains of grand old buildings left to
decompose are the norm here. Some
efforts are being made to renovate and
reconstruct, but the job would be nearly
Pippin the 3-toed sloth is a resident of Shelter
Bay and a pet  aboard "Chewbacca". Fay
couldn't resist a cuddle from this little sweetie.
At last, we were ready to go. "Cups" had ten
old tires wrapped in plastic hanging off her
topsides and four 110', 1" lines (standard and
required equipment for a yacht transit)
aboard. The other requirement: 4 linehandlers
plus a captain. We were short one
linehandler and Jorge, a local worker at the
marina, was contracted to take the
linehandler spot.  We left the marina around
1500...just in case there were any problems
and went to anchor in the Flats to wait for
our "advisor", the person appointed by the
ACP (Canal Authority) to provide direction
and instruction during the transit.
Doug was celebrating his 60th birthday
and transiting the Canal had been on his
"bucket list".
Jorge and Fay practiced their bowlines
for the linehandling duties ahead.
We transited the first set of three locks
at Gatun at night and spent the night
moored in Gatun Lake.
Though exhausted, nobody slept all that well
anticipating the next day's transit completion.
We sidetied to a super huge mooring
buoy in Gatun Lake for the night.
We transited rafted to a catamarran
so not all four linehandlers had jobs
to do. After practicing her bowlines,
Fay wanted to make sure she had
her turn.
A monkey fist, a tight knot with a lead weight in the middle in the shape of a ball and a long
tether line, is tossed from the lock to transiting yachts and ships. The linehandlers tied our
110' lines already prepared with huge bowlines, to the tether. The canal workers hauled in
the lines, attached them to bollards on the side of the Canal and walked them from one
bollard to another as necessary. I nicked this old black and white photo from the PanCan
website showing the construction of the Gaillard Cut. Compare it to the photo below.
The restoration project had lots of
raw material to work with and a
long way to go.
Another photo nicked from the PanCan
website gives an aerial perspective.
The Miraflores Locks are the last
set of two locks to be transited.
We passed a car carrier as we went
through the Gaillard Cut. The Centennial
Bridge is in the background...new since
our last transit.
Jorge stands at the bow as the second
gate opens and we exit the locks into the
Pacific Ocean.
David toasts Neptune as we enter the
Pacific. We were greeted with a torrential
No moorings were available at the Balboa
Yacht Club so we sailed a few miles
further and tucked into the Amador
Causeway anchorage  The Bridge of the
Americas is in the background.
Once settled into the anchorage and having a good
night's sleep we set out to explore some of Panama
City with the Grimms. Though we had been here
before, we'd missed several things (or forgotten
them) so we were happy to be tourists with them.
Our first stop was Casco Viejo, the Old City. We
wandered along old city streets admiring the
architecture.There is a huge restoration project in
process and we could see the significant progress
being made. In many cases (right), only the facade
of the building remained and peeking inside
rendered only a vacant lot. We strolled, had a cold
beer, strolled some more, had lunch, strolled some
more and had an ice cream cone and then...we
strolled some more and shopped for molas and
Kuna jewelry. All in all, a full day.
We ate at a pleasant open air cafe for
lunch in Casco Viejo.
A scenic cityscape view of Panama City.
We used the facilities at the Flamenco
Yacht Club, but we anchored out.
The view from the Amador Causeway
towards the anchorage and the Bridge of
the Americas, which connects North and
South America!
We provisioned for our freshies at the huge
and fantastic Abasto Market.
We finally broke down and bought a
new AB RIB (rigid inflatable bottom)
dinghy to replace our old Avon.
"Watch out for that big stick", I cautioned
David as we were returning to Cups in our
dinghy one afternoon. Hmmm...not a stick,
but a boa constrictor...yikes!
An osprey stands sentinel on the
lighthouse entrance to Flamenco
Fairy terns all aflutter on a deserted
barge in the anchorage.
Before we knew it the Grimms were flying back to the States. We knew they'd be back
again...some other port, some other time.

So...we completed Panama Canal Transit #2 and we were in the Pacific again with plans to
cross it, but.... it was late June, really too late in the season to cross leisurely and enjoy the
sights. What to do?  We decided to wait and transit early in the season in 2009, but what to
do till then?  Ecuador was always a favorite place of ours and we has missed some sights in
Chile that we'd really like to see. So new plans were formulated. In the meantime, we met
up with German cruisers and fellow SSCA members, Brit and Axel aboard
Hello World.
Engine problems had caused their delay for a crossing and they, too, decided to stick
around South America until early 2009. We decided to travel in "loose company" from
Panama to Ecuador, taking in some of the islands and rivers en route. Join us in the
Perlas (Pearl Islands) and the rivers of the Darien on our way to Ecuador.
Not sure what was so good
under Cups, but we had loads
of pelicans, on, under, over and
around the boat.
More Panama stuff
The flora was lush and exotic.
Cups ready to leave the dock
We reserved a tour of an Embera
village which takes a page of its
own. Come with us!
Colorful Kuna molas and jewelry
lined the sidewalks.