January 24, 2015
We arrived yesterday afternoon at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. It was a bit of as slog to get here, as the Gulf of Panama has a milder version of the winds we experienced first as “Tehuantepeckers” then as “Papagayos.” It’s basically the same phenomena in all three places – higher pressure in the Caribbean breaking across the low spots in Central America. So we had 20 or so knots of wind on the nose, and with the big tide range in Pacific Panama, we also had some 2 knot contrary currents.
But so it goes, and we were lucky enough to get the very last available mooring buoy at the Balboa Yacht Club. But don’t get the wrong idea from the words “Yacht Club.” The old Balboa Yacht Club was a run-down wooden building alongside the Canal, whose principal virtue was good hamburgers, and, according to many stories, attractive young women interested in finding a lonely sailor.
That building burned down in the late ‘90s, and now the facilities include only an “informal” building with showers and restrooms, sandwiched between a marine railway (for hauling boats out of the water) and a bunch of marine junk scattered on the bank. It’s raffish and really very cool, with plenty of hustle and bustle as ship supply vessels busily transport pallets of groceries, crew members and odd lots of spare ship parts.
The old bar is gone, of course, but a thatched-roof restaurant across the street has very cold Balboa beer and an adequate variety of hamburgers, salads and fish. Semi-domesticated cats roam everywhere, including in the restaurant, and people leave small piles of dry cat food around for them to pick at.
Tourism here doesn’t amount to much of anything – the cruise ships pass through the Canal without stopping. It is a working port – and as a result things are cheap, friendly, very informal and a little rough around the edges. A very welcome contrast to Costa Rica, where, as a visitor, one felt a little like a hunk of raw meat at shark-feeding time.
Andy Seglins arrives today from Seattle, to join his wife Anita on the boat, and we will have a full crew of five (required for transit through the Canal) by tonight. Some days of messing around with paperwork will follow, getting “admeasured” for passage through the Canal, clearing Customs and Immigration, and we hope to do the one or two day Canal transit later next week. We’ll see. We have to be scheduled after the “admeasurement” is done.
Meanwhile we are moored right next to the channel through which a lot of the world’s shipping passes. Giant freighters lumber by, seeming only a few yards away, rolling us all day and night with their wakes. It’s an exciting place. Quite a contrast with Bahia Honda.
LATE UPDATE: We got a call that we could be “admeasured” immediately, if we proceeded out towards the entrance to the Canal. We did it, and a Canal official came to the boat, performed the various functions of admeasurement (quite few), and awarded us a lifetime Ship Identification Number. Then the rains came – a real tropical downpour, lasting, up ‘til now, three hours. We’re soaked to the point where we feel like we’re dissolving… All good though, and promises a prompt passage through the Canal.