On Sunday, October 13, we headed away from Contadora toward Panama City. We were scheduled to get measured and complete the paperwork to transit the canal the following day. As we motored out, we were immediately swallowed up by the large dark clouds that gathered over us. We were prepared for rain, and we got more than we were expecting. It poured and the visibility was less than a mile. We were to cross the shipping lanes that lead all of the huge freighters into the entrance to the canal. Thank goodness for instruments. Our AIS shows each ship and it's location, along with the number of minutes before collision! It was a tense ride into the bay. Once there, we had to weave between all of the anchored 700-1,000 foot ships as well as determine if any of them were moving. We located the bay that we were to anchor in and were getting closer while avoiding all of the "obstacles" when our engine began to shudder and we slowed to a crawl. What???!! Not now!! Ken ran below to check out the engine while Dale examined all of the instruments. Finding nothing, we surmised that there was something wrong beneath Slow Dancer. We only had about a mile to go……we HAD to make it, there was no stopping in this minefield! Motoring with all that we had,we made it into La Playita anchorage. After securing the anchor and taking a breath, Ken went in to take a look at the underside of Slow Dancer. Ugh…..a large plastic sack (think burlap bag) was wrapped on our prop shaft. Must have fallen off a ship.
OK, all's well. Here we are in an anchorage near a couple of marinas, the Panama Canal Authority and more than a dozen huge ships. There are a couple of derelict boats and 3 ferries. Behind us there is a rock breakwater and the busy Amador Causeway. We needed to anchor here because our appointment was somewhere between 7 a.m and 2 p.m. Nothing like narrowing it down! After a couple of hours in the anchorage, the wind began to pick up. This anchorage is open to the Southwest. Guess where the wind was coming from? You've got it, southwest! And it was getting dark. This nasty wind came and built to gusts of 30+ knots and included waves to match it, pushing us to the end of our chain and closer and closer to the breakwater. We spent the night watching our instruments and making sure that we were not washed up onto the breakwater. Morning came and we were relieved that the wind and waves abated a bit. Here we are, 7:00….waiting…..10:00….12:00 really?? Then we get a message, we can't get to you today, come back tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. Seriously?!! We are not staying here another night.
We called the Balboa Yacht Club (don't get excited, this is not like you would think that a yacht club might be). Motoring the 40 minutes toward the Bridge of the Americas, the Balboa YC is directly in front of it and the entrance to the canal. In this "yacht club" boats must grab a mooring ball with two slimy ropes that have to be hauled up and placed around two cleats in the front of SD. We were fortunate that a panga driver, Johnny, was available and helped us to get attached. Whew! Only redeeming grace of this marina is that we could call a water taxi 24 hours a day and be transported to the huge commercial dock. Did we mention that the tidal range here is +20 feet?? So climbing on and off of the panga is a challenge at best. We went ashore and enjoyed a nice dinner at the "yacht club" restaurant and back to SD. Next morning, 6:15, we slipped the slimy lines off of our cleats and let them drop back onto the mooring buoy. Off we went along the buoys marking the shipping lane for the huge ships to enter the canal, as they passed just a few feet away and back to La Playita. We were anchored by 6:55 and waited. At 11:00, a large tug approached us to "drop off" our Admeasurer. He had a bit of trouble dropping down enough to be on our deck, but he did it and we spent the next 1 1/2 hours with him making sure that SD was ready and able to transit the Panama Canal. We passed!!!
Back to the Yacht Club we went. Our original plan was to cross the shipping lanes and anchor at Isla Tabago for a couple of days. No such luck, we had another issue to deal with. Our batteries were not holding a charge and were swimming in acid! We caught our mooring lines again using a boat hook and a panga driver. Off we went to the boat supply stores. Several hours later, we found one store with one guy (who was closing in 5 minutes) that helped us. He could get what we needed and have them delivered to Slow Dancer the next day. Hooray! Now the problem of lifting out the old batteries (120 lbs each x 4) that were swimming in acid and getting rid of them plus picking up the new ones at the head of the loooooong dock and getting them down to the panga and delivered to the boat. They would then need to be hefted up and over our deck and down into our salon to be installed. Wednesday came and it was go time! Between the two of us, we lifted the old batteries onto towels and cleaned out the plastic bins that they were in. We talked to a panga driver and told him (in limited Spanish) what our issue was. He said that he had a friend that was "muy fuerte"! (very strong) So we agreed to pay the two of them a total of $50 to take the old batteries to meet the guy with the new ones then get the new ones, drive them out to SD and heft them up then down and into our living area. All went like clockwork until a special connector device that Ken had to buy dropped into the water between the panga and SD. UGH! So after the new batteries were below, Ken jumped into the panga to go to "town". Out of the panga and into a cab. Wait here. We were so fortunate that the same store guy had one left! Buy it, into the cab down the dock, into a panga and out to SD. Whew!! Now to hook everything up and pray that it all works. It worked!! Next step, buy enough groceries to feed ourselves, our two friends that were coming to help with our crossing, two paid line handlers and an advisor.
Groceries purchased, we dropped them at the boat…..not an easy task and grabbed an Uber to the airport to get Steve and Tom, who came from Washington to help as line handlers. We enjoyed our evening with our friends and prepared for our crossing on Saturday.