Welcome to the Pacific

Here you can see the lock doors opening to allow us to pass into the final lock of our transit, it all went very smoothly. Our advisor, Jose, was excellent and our line handlers did a great job. We were rafted with a Beneteau 54 and we were the "command" boat which meant we drove the raft while the other boat just left their engine in neutral and wheel centered.

Through the Gatun locks we had a medium sized ship (450'), a tug, and then our two-yacht raft in the chamber. There is a fair amount of turbulence as the chamber fills, then more as the ship, then the tug, moved forward, but our handlers were smart and we stayed in great position, never coming near the walls.

We spent a nice night on Gatun Lake, hoping that fresh water would kill off the marine growth on our bottom. Fay fixed a great dinner and we had a lively conversation on world politics with our pro line handler, Rudy. Rudy knows his history and politics pretty well, and he has six children, a dozen grandchildren, 6 great grandchildren, and his father is 94 and still alive! A fascinating family!

We were awakened about 5:30am by the howler monkeys and then the construction crews working on the new locks. Our second advisor joined us about 7:00am for Fay's quiche and then we slowly motored to the Pedro Miguel lock. The advisor allowed us to take the "Banana Cut" which is a little more scenic, shortens the trip a bit (irrelevant because we did most of the trip at 4kts) and kept us out of the main channel and big ships for awhile.

For the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks we had two rafts of yachts, a tourist boat (which allegedly was formally owned by Al Capone) and a medium sized work boat (150'). Plenty of room in the 1,000' lock. All went smoothly and we popped out into the Pacific Ocean about 2:30pm.

We're now in the Flamenco Marina in Panama City, compiling our final list of items to be completed before we head to the Galapagos. The marina has lots of surge, 13' tides, no internet access from the boat, and jack hammers powered by a portable generator tearing up the concrete about 100' from where I sit outside at a cafe. We have many incentives to get moving!

And now a little later

Cristobal Signal, the radio operator for the canal, just advised us that we pick up our pilot at 1545, that's 3:45pm Eastern time. I estimate that means we enter the first lock around 4:30.

Canal update

Mark and Kimberly came by last evening and we had a chance to get to know them better. They are quite accomplished sailors! They are transiting the canal in about two weeks and on their way to San Diego they will cross their outbound track and complete a circumnavigation. And for Mark it will be his second circumnavigation! So we're really pleased to have such experienced sailors with us for our canal transit.

Late breaking news: Our transit time has been moved up to 3pm (Eastern time). We'll be out of the slip around 2pm, pick up our advisor by 2:30 and theoretically be entering the first lock about 3pm. Gotta go!

Dolphins

Unloading the camera this morning I discovered these pictures of dolphins. We have been somewhat disappointed by the lack of dophins and whales we've seen the Caribbean, so this was a pleasant surprise. We were returning from San Blas, somewhere between Porvenir and Linton, when we spotted several groups of dolphins. This pair broke away and played tag with our bow for about ten minutes, then returned a little later for another round.

We' ve had the same experience in California, but the dolphins usually had a number of scars on their backs. These dolphins were absolutely pristine; just perfectly beautiful.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming of the Panama canal transit.

Canal time

Tomorrow is the big day, we transit the Panama Canal!

The process goes like this.  We are currently in Shelter Bay, on the Caribbean side of Panama.  We motor to the "flats", near the east side of the entrance to the Gatun locks.  We wait there, dong some lazy circles, until our canal advisor arrives.  If we were a ship, we would get a pilot, but since we're only a little boat, we have an "advisor".  In any case, the advisor tells us what to do throughout the transit.

Once the advisor is onboard we head to the first lock.  We don't yet know who else will be in the lock with us.  We could be alone (not likely), with two other yachts behind a big ship (more likely), rafted to a tug, not known yet.  We should find out tomorrow morning.

Once in the locks our line handlers, Kimberly (San Diego), Mark (New Zealand), Rudy (rent-a-linehandler), and Fay, catch a "monkey's fist" from the line handlers on shore, wrap it around our lines, and then our line gets dragged back to the line handlers on shore.  The purpose of the lines is to hold us in the middle of the lock and it's a very important job.  We don't want to hit the very rough sides of the locks (built in 1914).

The three Gatun locks each lift us about 20'.  So they fill the lock with water, flowing downhill from the lock above, and ultimately from Gatun Lake.  The lock is about 1,000' x 150', so something like 22 million gallons of water flow into the lock which creates a lot of turbulence.  Once we've been lifted 20', the ship in front of us (there will likely be a big ship in front of us), slowly moves forward under its own power, while electric "mules" keep it in the center of the lock and stop it from hitting the next door at the end of the next lock.  Repeat this for three locks.

When we come out of the last lock, we motor about 1/4 mile to a very large mooring buoy where we tie up for the night.  The advisor goes home and we have dinner.

The advisor returns the next morning about 6am and we motor slowly across Gatun Lake, roughly 30miles to the Miraflores locks.  It's a similar process, but much less traumatic because the water is draining out of the lock, rather than filling the lock.  The water just basically drains out the bottom, while our line handlers ease our lines to keep us centered, and we are lowered 20' each time.  That's it, we're in the Pacific Ocean!

Somewhere in there the advisor gets off and then we motor to the Flamenco Marina where we'll do our preparations for the trip to the Galapagos and French Polynesia.  We expect to depart in mid-March.

There is a webcam for the Gatun locks at: http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html

Pick the Gatun Locks high res and then select the magnifier to zoom in.

Third time is the charm

Or so I hope.

The last ten days has been a crush of work to prepare New Morning for the Pacific crossing. We replaced portions of the engine charging system, most of the solar panels, some tank sensors and an assortment of regular maintenance (fuel filters, belts, etc.).

I'm now on the 3rd generation of day tank level sensors. The first round, the NMEA 2000 sensors from Offshore Systems just didn't work. Oddly they seem to still be sort of working in the other fuel tanks, but the water tank sensor died entirely and the day tank fuel sensor was never accurate.

The second generation was a brief, but a full try with the Maretron TLM sensors (ultrasonic). But even with a "focus tube", foam apparently defeats the Maretron sensors. Since diesel fuel foams up when pumped, and even to some degree when sloshed around, these sensors can't work for fuel (though they are working for the water tank).

Third time I went with the tried and proven "magnet on a stick", also known as a resistive sensor. It is quite literally a stainless steel rod with a magnet that floats up and down with the fluids. WEMA makes a nice one. I married it to a Maretron TLA100, tank level adapter, that turns the resistive reading of the WEMA sensor into something that can be distributed on the NMEA 2000 bus and used by the Offshore Systems transfer pump controller.

So far so good, the sensor has been quite stable in its reading. It still needs some calibration. And after we reach the Pacific I'll transfer some fuel and give it the foam test. But I'm really pulling for this third solution!

Yesterday Fay recruited two great line handlers for our canal transit on Sunday. But more on that later today!

Pacific Puddle Jump

Latitude 38 followed up the PPJ party by posting our picture in their online version. See it at Lectronic Latitude and scroll down little bit.

Fay in Harken

Fay in Harken
Fay always dreamed of being a model, but I don't think the dream included sailboat hardware catalogs. None the less, there she is, at the helm of New Morning, promoting Harken's headsail furling system. Well maybe she's overshadowed by New Morning, but hey, I'm nowhere to be seen!

We're not sure how this picture got into the catalog, we probably benefited from Billy Black's marketing efforts. Billy's picture looks great and New Morning looks nice going to weather in light air. See the larger picture In The News.

Catch up

Wow, time flies when you're having fun. So far behind on the blog.

Picking up where I left off, we spent another week or so in the San Blas Islands. A few more days in the Robesons with a cocktail / dinner party on each boat the next three nights after the floating cocktail party. We were all procrastinating moving on because the wind was a fairly steady 15-20, gusting higher, and anywhere you go from the Robesons is upwind and into significant swell. We took a great river trip in the dinghies, winding up a small river into the jungle and even visited a Kuna cemetery. The birds and monkeys along the river were pretty interesting as we moved through the very quiet water with a heavy jungle canopy above us. Definitely the highlight of the stay in the Robesons. But after another three nights of partying and too much fun with Kookla and Blow Me Away, it was time to go, wind and swells or not.

Our plan was to check out, spend a night at Chichime, then move on to Linton and Portobello. But there wasn't much cooperation on that plan. First, when we attempted to checkout on Saturday morning we were informed the port captain was gone for the weekend. They're supposed to be open 7 days / week, but…

So we moved to Chichime and figured we'd check out on Monday morning and shorten our stay in Portobello. But on Monday morning our voltage regulator, which had been barely limping along for the last month, only charging at full blast (i.e., no regulation), died entirely (the two other spares had failed in short order a month before). That led to five hours of fiddling with the alternator wiring, taking measurements and talking with Electrodyne who made our alternators. Finally, after five hours, they concluded that they had given me incorrect information for the last three weeks regarding how to "full field" the alternator. I made a simple change to the wiring and we had power immediately. I was the regulator for the rest of the trip, sticking my head into the 120F engine room to change the wiring as needed when the battery voltage got too high. So that was Monday.

We finally got away on Tuesday, but since we were due in Shelter Bay on Wednesday we had to skip our stop in Portobello. With only 3-4 knots of wind from well aft we had to motor the entire way to Linton. We made a stop for a sleepless night rolling around in Linton, then moved on to Shelter Bay and tied up on Wednesday afternoon. Thursday we met with a service person from Lyman Morse, then Andy - our excellent mechanic working on the autopilot, and finally Ramone who is helping with the solar panel replacement. It was a busy day.

Friday morning was up and off to Panama City (or just Panama as it is known locally) with Brad and Gloria from Kindred Spirit. We spent a few hours running errands around Panama, then checked into the Decapolis and enjoyed air conditioning and a nice dinner. With a good internet connection we each downloaded about a thousand email messages (no exaggeration) and spent a little time on the web.

Saturday was the Pacific Puddle Jump seminar at the Balboa Yacht Club. The presentation was a little light on hard content, in part because much of the material had been emailed out earlier, though we had not received it because we were not registered on the correct list. None the less there were free cocktails and an opportunity to meet a number of people on other boats who will be making the crossing to French Polynesia in the same general time frame, and at least one boat that will be stored in October in the same marina where we plan to store New Morning. All mixed in with the usual telling of cruising tales, discussion of the inability to obtain badly needed repair parts and cruising plans.

Sunday was spent mostly on the internet catching up on a wide range of tasks. Then on Monday Fay flew to San Diego and I returned to Shelter Bay. I'll continue to develop my boat mechanic skills this week while Fay shops for more parts in San Diego and catches up with family.

We're scheduled to transit the canal on the 27th!

Leftovers

Lobster again? There was lobster with butter and artisan bread. Then there was lobster risotto with a cucumber salad. Then there was leftover lobster risotto after the floating cocktail party.

What, you ask, is a floating cocktail party? Not the floating cocktail party as in moving from bar to bar, this was literally a floating cocktail party. I'm not sure who thought this up, but the idea is that rather than someone hosting cocktails on their boat, we just meet up in our dinghy's. At the appointed hour, about 5:15, we lashed up four dinghy's and let the wind blow them across the water; roughly in the direction of Columbia. There was rum and coke, beer, peanuts, cashews, lobster/artichoke dip, olives and all in all a pretty amazing set of snacks for a raft of dinghies! Floating and drifting as the rum and beer flowed, the laughs cascaded across the water and the big boats became smaller and smaller.

Eventually the sun set and New Morning was disappearing in the distance. Just the twinkle of Cosmos' anchor light as our guide (not the Cosmos, but Cosmos, the skipper of Kookla). We had our trusty 2hp outboard; Aaron had a 30hp outboard. Aaron towed us back to New Morning at an exhilarating speed while I wondered about the strength of our painter and the carabiner that attached us to the back of Aaron's dinghy; thinking that if it failed it would come flying our direction at a pretty spectacular rate. But it held and we were soon back to New Morning. And a dinner of more leftover lobster.

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