As adventurers and lovers of the sea, Peter and I, we had and still have a lot of dreams. One of them, probably most, was to cross the oceans and sail around the world, while the passage of the Panama Canal, in front of which we just were, certainly deepened our dreams and turned them into unique and unrepeatable experience anywhere in the world.
That afternoon, Meermowe left the Shelter Bay Marina with a crew of five members fulfilling the requirement of independent transit. Steve Barrett and Steve Parker, our friends from the ship Waterman and surfer Tom that is of Croatian origin, who was travelling and surfing through countries of Isthmus Panama, were a fantastic team who helped us to cross the canal. With them, we share all our feelings, happiness and excitement. Late in the afternoon we sailed in Lake Gatun. We anchored at the location from which we boarded the first pilot who led us through this part of the canal. Numerical strength of our crew was reason enough to use the waiting time to prepare dinner. For this occasion, I chose for something simple, quickly and abundantly, stuffed peppers in tomato sauce and mashed potatoes. For dessert, I baked pancakes stuffed with cottage cheese, sprinkled with chocolate. Smells that were spread from Meermow’s magical cauldron are created the mouth water and opened the appetite. I enjoyed the atmosphere and mood that prevailed on board. Everything was ready, while beer, wine and rum already cooled in the refrigerator.
Panama Canal is long about 80 kilometers. Its construction began Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps, who are lack of money and incurable disease, prevent in its completion. Further construction work were took over Americans, successfully connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific, after which, over a hundred years, through the Panama Canal sailed the first boat. From that, a hundred years of heavy historical crate, I would earmarked a very interesting story about the achievement of the American adventurer Richard Halliburton, the first man who, swam the entire length of the canal. Going through the chamber, due to their weight he was considered as “the lightest boat”, on the basis of which he paid the lowest fee for the crossing that ever paid, amounting to 34 cents.
The pilot arrived with motorboat shortly before six o’clock. We could not believe how much he looked like Raul Castro. Using the knowledge and experience he immediately took command of the ship. Ropes and fenders, as instructed, were placed on either side of the deck, attached to bollards and ready for use. Twilight had already started to fall when we left the anchorage and headed towards
Gatun Lock. We moved slowly in the convoy of ships, aligning a row one after the other. Surrounded by giant freighters and tankers, it seemed we were less than what we are.
Crossing the canal, from the Caribbean to the Pacific, altogether takes about 24 hours. The canal consists of three sections chambers, Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores in two independent directions. Locks are working on a very simple principle, raising the ships for 26m on the level of the artificial Lake Gatun and then lowering to 26m at sea level.
The lights at night were becoming closer and bigger. A few hundred meters separated us from the door. Shortly before entering the lock, we waited for two boats that have followed us, in order to connect with them in a single unit. Peter did not hide his excitement and joy, which are like fireworks emanating from him. “This is exactly what we wanted and what we will do now”, was his message addressed to my view. Finally, at the default beep, heavy doors were started to be as on the viking-castle, widely open. Holding the required distance from a large merchant ship in front of us, we slowly walked into the first chamber. Pilots were synchronized to manage the movement of our boats and work of people on board. Immediately upon entering, officers on the walls of chamber, who joined us on either side by two, threw to us thin lines with which they are fetched our ropes from bow and stern that they are used to manage and control the distance from the ends.
Unlike sailing boats, special cables that towed electric locomotives called “mulas” drive merchant ships. They are named after animals that have traditionally been used to cross the Panama Canal. Delight had expanded through the deck on all three sailboats as infection. Like the paparazzi I used all of our cameras, in desire that with all of you who sail with us through Meermowe’s Great Adventure, we share this unforgettable atmosphere. It was extremely, and even bits frightening when were the heavy door closed behind us. It reminded on the detainees in prison, which will free Robin Hood or perhaps Three Musketeers. Suddenly, large amounts of water have begun to charge the room. Turbulence and eddies they were felt all around us. For every transit needs millions of gallons of fresh water, with which, by the system of pumps from the artificial Lake Gatun, chamber fill up in less than ten minutes. By raising the boat to the required level, the door of the second chamber is opening and the principle is repeated. In the third lock, we rose to the level of Gatun Lake when we, with own drive, stepped in its tropical waters, release the rope from the other boats and tied to a huge buoy. Dinner was divine. Our Castro, enjoying the flavors, simply was melted with pleasure, which is why he regrets that the next day was not in our shift, to lead us on.
The evening was beautiful, quiet and peaceful. With the smell of white coffee that was spread through the cockpit, we enjoyed the pleasant company, but not for long, because we had to get up early. With a birth of a new day should arrive the second pilot. Everything was ready but he was not in sight. The remaining two boats are had long since sailed. We were left alone as the orchestra without a conductor. The atmosphere and mood were on the level while waiting time has seemed endlessly. At the right time and the right place, just like a priest, with the scent of oregano, which was spread with the first baked pizza for lunch, our dear pilot appeared, who stayed with us until the end of the transit. Just after eleven o’clock in a hurry we were left buoy. It took as soon as possible to pass Pedro Miguel, get to Miraflores Lock up to four hours in the afternoon and prepare for the descent into the Pacific. Diversity of this part of the canal, made our transition even more exciting. Lake Gatun was once the largest artificial lake in the world. The rainy tropical forests surround it while in its central part there is exotic Barro Colorado Island that we passed with cries of monkeys, which have been coming from the surrounding jungle. To our satisfaction, certainly were contributed and crocodiles, who have swam along the Chagres River, the largest tributary of the lake. For some of them the only head was visible. Looking at them, I felt something as shudder, while in Dino and Pipo was awoke Crocodile Dundee. They were that much entered the spirit of everything what they saw, that they were nearly landed over the ship. I can imagine to feathers and sponges would flew on all sides to them is one of them picked up. With their mischief and playfulness, are completely conquered our crew. Passing through the narrowest part of the channel Culebra Cut at Gamboa, we got the new vistas to the terraced hills and Freedom Bridge, under which we passed. The beauty of its line and attractive structure amazed us. Recalled the San Francisco. We approached the Pedro Miguel Lock, and tied for the same sailing boats with which we passed through Gatun. Entering the room, as with water elevator, we descended down to the level of Miraflores Lake, in wich we sailed with great expectations. Behind us, with a snail’s pace, was moving gigantic ship. With curiosity and disbelief we watched his entry into the Miraflores Chamber. An impressive six centimetres, on each side, were separate him from the walls. It was a fascinating scene, in front of which Peter felt like a cockroach that could be crushed at any moment. The liveliness of the lock, gave many passengers with tourist ship, from which have arrived amazing comments directed to the Meermowe as a sailing boat and questions of curious about our adventurous venture. Originally, we were tied to their ship and then untied and merged with another boat in a block of two. Sailing into the final chamber, we find ourselves face to face with the last door. Two baskets full of cold beer, wine and champagne, we brought out on deck and they were ready to celebrate. Pacific, the only thought which occupied all our senses. We stared at the heavy doors as in the celestial miracle. Level of water on both sides finally equalized. Sound signal, on which the door began to open slowly, believe me, was quieter than the heartbeat in our chest. The door finally opened. We moved forward and while the foam of beer spilled over the cans, we were bravely face with the new challenges of the Pacific. Night has already fallen when we’re at Balboa passed under the beautiful Americas Bridge towards the Isle of Flamenco. The road link such as breakwater which connects it to the mainland, is made of rocks extracted by digging the Panama canal and therefore is called Amador Causeway. We dropped anchor near the marina and thus joined our group. Our crew, that same evening, dispersed and again we were alone. Next three days anchorage and this city were our new home, so we decided to visit the most attractive places in the city and learn about its culture.
With the new morning, dawned the new excitement. Ship ropes and buoys, which we used in transit, we had to bring to the reception of the marina. The chances do it on the choppy sea and under the wind with our small dinghy, were very small. Friends have diverged and we are, like Lolek and Bolek, started unwise to think how to perform it. Ropes we were threw in and throw out of the dinghy, tried with different combinations, but there was no help. Whatever that we tried the boat was small. Suddenly, my husband yelled, “come on, that’s enough fooling”. I knew that his blood pressure had risen to red so immediately I sat into the dinghy, how he could throw me out, on the coast and then returned to the ship. After about half an hour, while I was sitting and waiting for him in a small cafe, there was a clamor, noise and laughter. I looked in the direction of a group of people, our yachtsman, who gathered in ever-greater numbers, pushing each other is to be closer to the fence. I decided to see what it was. The scene was brilliant. With a big smile on the face, like Speedy Gonzales, my husband was chasing in the dinghy over the waves, surrounded by ropes and buoys like a fugitive from a swarm of bumblebee’s females. It was missing the only Mexican shout “Yarriva, Yarriva”. “He who can gets two”, is an old adage. Through a very short time, Peter has gained great popularity. Steve Barrett, who was part of our crews through the Panama Canal, made the picture you see. If would that lasted a little longer, who knows probably this picture could be on the pages of Panamanian Newspapers or on TV. In the end, we were quite happy and with the idea to compete for the best image, “Around the World” ARC 2015/2016. That afternoon we drove by taxi to Panama City, Ciudad de Panama or as it is popularly called “Little Miami”. Pleasant and friendly people, a weird mix of new and old, richness and extreme poverty one beside other, piles of garbage and beautiful nature, certainly describe this city. The modern metropolis and old town are two totally separate mid designed for themselves. It was for us a unique experience beyond expectations. Upon the recommendation of taxi-driver, we disembarked in the center of the old town of Casco Antigo. His, red brick paved streets lead us to the Square of Plaza Cathedral. Everywhere, renovated buildings in pastel colors with decorated balconies and beautiful courtyards surrounded us. Mixtures of Spanish and French architecture disclose their authenticity and give them a special charm. The main square is surrounded by historical buildings in the shadow of beautiful Tabebuia trees with pink flowers. Plaza Catedral from time to time, is used for musical performances, fairs of food and clothing, on which also expose Kuna Yalla handicrafts from the island of San Blass Archipelago. Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria la Antigua de Panama, known as the Metropolitan Cathedral, was immediately captured our attention. This old Roman Catholic Church is one of the largest in Central America. On each side of the main entrance, there is white tower decorated with mother of pearl from islands of Las Perlas Archipelago. Dark brown stonewall and wooden door give her the appearance of very interesting building. We planned to take a peek inside it but unfortunately it was not open to visitors.
Walking through the city in the unbearable heat, it should proclaim as sports’discipline. Thirst that we were feeling was turned into a mirage, which was captivated us like a virus. While we cried to for large mugs of cold drink with lots of ice, Jugo Juices shop, appeared before us as commissioned. Without thinking we stepped inside as wilted tulips. Fortunately there were no crowds and the two big cold fruity happinesses, based on beetroot and banana, soon they became a pleasant reality.
Casco Viejo is full of very interesting stories related to his past and a time when Panama was, in search of gold, the main attraction of pirate attacks. Whether crude robbers or not, all of us in some way, we love to listen about the pirate’ adventures and feats, of which have lived and all what one pirate makes different from the common man. One such story is located in the Cathedral Iglesia San Jose that was very intrigued us, so we walked toward of San Filipe suburb, how we would investigate her. The church is known for it massive golden altar called “Altar de Oro” what means “Golden Altar”, which survived a pirate attack and remained preserved. This impressive structure is not really made of pure gold, already carved mahogany covered with gold leafs and flakes. At that time the altar was located in one of the churches in the first city of Panama, “Panama Viejo”. During the attack on the town of English pirate of Henry Morgan, the Jesuits are, in fear that they could lose it, painted the altar in black, to hide gold. Not suspecting that they are outsmarted, pirates have left intact the altar in the conviction that it is worthless. After the Morgan looted and burnt “Old Panama”, the altar is relocated in the new church at its present location.
After the successful rescue of the altar, we decided to sit down somewhere and save ourselves from starvation. We opened the glass door of a beautiful, modern and very elegant restaurant that we got in the way. Its name we did not registered because we were too occupied with lunch and intoxicating scents. It was a real refreshing oasis on the saharan temperature that ruled outside on the street, in a very pleasant and relaxing environment. Panama has no traditional cuisine but dishes are very tasty and made with fresh ingredients, while the service is more than quality. Bottle of cold red wine we ordered, appetizer and salad of calamari, soon were served at our table. After lunch we were back in function, ready to confront with the sun, as Don Quixote with the windmills, and move forward. Between Casco Viejo and the Canal is located a very rusty and the unsightly part of the city. The streets are full of garbage, stench and drunks, which are lying in the sidewalks. It is characterized with poverty and misery, shops full of nothing and tables that offer rotten fruit. The district is prone to protests and manifestations of discontent, what did not surprised us. Although we felt very embarrassed, we passed these streets, where under open sky, takes place everyday life. Barbers doing shave and haircut in the street while people wait for their turn, dentists extracting teeth in the partially destroyed house for $ 5 while consultations are free of charge. As our son Pedja said, “more misery and poverty means better experience the city”. True, there is something in it, even though it seems that we do not have being here to look for. We left this idyll and were headed toward the French Park, which was built as a memorial on the extremely large number of French workers who have lost their lives in the construction of the Panama Canal. Geometric is designed and has a unique panoramic view of the Amador Causeway and modern metropolis. In the evening we returned by taxi to the marina. Sea and wind were calmed down so we absolutly dry have managed to arrive on the ship.
Panama City is known for its shopping. Although we had planned just restore food supplies, which are in Shalter Bay in Colon, mostly ended up in the trash, we decided the next day to go to Allbrook Mall, one of the largest in the city. Shopping center is located about twenty minutes drive from the marina. We went out from taxi in front of the main entrance. In the mall was ruled sparkle. Next to large giraffes, entertainment park and little tourist train for a ride through the shopping center, I melted like chocolate in the sun. We noticed that the prices are affordable and everyone can find something for themselves. Peter had immediately, like a burdock, been glued for the sports shop “Hunting and Fishing” and bought a 2mm thick cable stainless steel, that it is fish would not bite through. He was that much happy so is two hours after that just talked of her, as about an ingenious solution. Accidentally that I had not recalled him to buy plastic container for diesel, he would even forget that we need it. Finally we come to the supermarket where we bought food and drink for further journey on Galapagos. The rest of the days, we used for rebuild fishing equipment in marina shop. Believe me, Panama is an ideal place for it. Everything was so cheap that we could not believe it. We have used a chance and bought ten new seductive baits in front of which, our pets like in front of a registrar, are could just say “YES”. Before returning to the ship, we picked up our passports and the necessary papers to leave the country. The next morning was marked by preparation for departure. One after the other the anchors were lifted from the sea. We were left the Flamenco in the direction of Las Perlas Archipelago, the last destination in Panama.
The trip was short and very pleasant for sailing. Contadora Island is one of over two hundred islands in the group, located in the Bay of Panama. The name of archipelago comes from the time of the Spanish conquerors that discovered the islands and large quantities of pearls on them. It used to be a “place to go” just for the rich and famous. Except members of Panamanian government, here were staying Christian Dior, the former Iranian Shah, John Wayne, Sophia Loren and many others. Las Perlas it also was the place where were filmed three seasons of TV series “Survivor”. For us this was a tropical paradise full of enjoyment, excitement and nominations, beautiful white sand beaches and friendly people always ready to meet when needed. When I think like a sailor then this is the ideal place to stay before sailing to the Galapagos Islands. In the afternoon we anchored in the Bay of Playa Cacique. By radio-link we reported Rally Control about arrival and we decided to the end of the day to stay on the board. With this beautiful specimen, Peter was once again proved its fishing virtuality. After dinner I ended up some more jobs how would we had as much as possible of fun and exploration next day.
Beautiful morning with the sounds of waves, promised a day of enjoyment. Beach bathed in sunshine, which stretched in front of us, simply called us from the boat. After a good breakfast, we took the dinghy and drove on ashore. The boat we were well secured from the tidal waves and headed for the trail to Villa Romantica, located on a hill just above the beach. The restaurant is first league with a large panoramic terrace, where from a beautiful view of the anchorage. In the parking lot next to the entrance, there were a couple of parked electric cars to golf courses. Immediately we rented one of them and as kids looking for adventure got into it. The winding road we raced downhill and uphill, what was this enjoyment. Laughter to tears especially when was, near the airport ended up asphalt. Surrounded by dust, with cobblestone we arrived to the largest beach on the island, Playa Larga. We stopped in a deserted and totally ruined hotel complex Contador. Although in the ruins, you can still sense the beauty of the former appearance. “The owner of the complex was killed in a plane crash, leaving the business to the large debts,” was the only information that we got. Let’s say so, but all together it looked like the narco calculation. We walked a bit along the beach, where there is also a stranded cruise ship. For sure, he is also covered with a veil of secrecy that we have not had time to discover. We have rather stayed in our happy and playful reality, so we moved on. Going through the woods, with beautiful houses and estates, we stopped in a few other bays, between which one is attracted us the most, Playa Dimaggio. The island has a few mini markets with a very small offer and shocking prices. In the immediate vicinity, we sat in a cute cafe, refresh with a beer, coffee and cakes then we returned to the Villa Romantica. We enjoyed this ride, as well in the wind, which was cooling us. We had plenty of time, to do another circle around the island and discover some new places that we missed.
With dinner on the beach, we said goodbye to our hosts. During the awards ceremony crews with the best time for sailing on this leg, the crew Meermowea was appointed to the best team with the most enjoyment in sailing. We could not believe our ears until we realized that it was about us. On this occasion we got a bottle of quality wine from Panama, which we immediately opened and shared with friends at our table. The problem of returning to the ship is turned into a fun and laugh. Namely, frequent waves did not allow us boarding in the dinghy, by constantly returning it to the sand. We had to go into the sea to the waist, hit the right time between two waves and jump into the boat. My husband had succeeded at the second attempt, while I was still jumping and rolling around, struggling to get into the dinghy, before the waves pushed us back. In the last minute Peter grabbed me for pants, threw in like a sack of potatoes into the dinghy, turned on the Penta and ignited toward the ship. We were wet and full of sand. From laughter we could not close the mouth. It was genuine madness. The next morning we raised the anchor, set sail from the Isle of Contador and definitely left that marvellous country of Panama. All that was left behind us is this sandy message. The course was leading us toward Islands of Galapagos.