December 13, 2009 – Portobello to Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama – 20.54nm

Our code zero that we got repaired in Cartagena ripped again after 15 seconds of it being up. Very frustrating!!!

We arrived and were put directly into the haul out slip ready to get our bottom repainted first thing tomorrow morning!

Shelter Bay Marina looks very nice. It is located on the old Fort Sherman Military Base. (The Americans left around 10 years ago and there are military bases all over the country). There is a swimming pool, a hot tub, a restaurant and bar where they have happy hour ($1.00 beers-Balboa) every night (Roberto is the best waiter). The bathrooms and showers deserve an honourable mention. But best of all, they have an air conditioned room where you can plug in your laptop and on the other side of the room in a large screen satellite TV where the kids can be entertained for hours while you catch up on your email!! There is a bus that leaves everyday at 8:00a.m. and 1:00 p.m. to take you into Colon to go shopping at the plaza Quatro de Altos. It is free in the morning and you pay $4.00 each way in the afternoon. The surrounding area is jungle, it is right on the edge of the Fort San Lorenzo. There are great hikes, bike rides out to the fort which is on the edge of the Rio Chagres.

Our excitement about having a swimming pool was very short lived as that very afternoon of our arrival Ryan fell backwards off the ledge and hit his head directly onto the concrete resulting in a concussion. Luckily for all of us, Dr. Dave was on the scene and took care of everything. Thank you Dr. Dave with all our hearts!

The yard is a different matter, they were excellent in getting our boat hauled and dry docked. The yard manager is a very nice cruiser who lives on his boat at the dock. However, they did not appear to have enough yard staff for the workload. We were on the hard for 10 days just to get the bottom repainted. We were starting to get worried, but Dave was adamant that we would be back in the water for Christmas and lo and behold December 23 we were spashed and at the dock.

A note to any future cruisers: We got several no-see-um bites from walking back and forth through the grass between the dry dock and the marina building. Several of these bites turned septic requiring anti-biotics. USE THE ROAD AND BUG SPRAY!

December 24, 2009 – SBM to Chagres River—18.71nm

We decided to go to the Chagres River for Christmas. Tyee went as well and we met also up with Mariposa who was already there. We needed a break from the marina scene. It is hard to believe that just one year ago we were celebrating in St. Martin’s with sv Pickles, sv Ariel and sv Imagine. How did a whole year go by so quickly?

The Chagres River is very peaceful and beautiful. What a great way to spend Christmas. It was fun to take the dingy up the little tributaries looking for monkeys, birds and sloths. Each morning you can hear the howler monkeys in the trees. We spotted some toucans and various other birds. Tyee took us all surfing off the back of their dingy, we tried not to think of the crocodiles and bull sharks that live in the river!! We didn’t see any live crocs but we did see a deceased one by the dock by the locks.

One other boat was on the river during Christmas turned out to be a boat that we had met in Cartagena, sv Pelican. They were looking to be line handlers and we were looking for some, so we signed them up right then and there! Our other line handlers were a couple that we met at the marina who were working on their boat on the hard. They had a 2 year old daughter which the kids adored. Tyee had brought them to the Chagres with them for Christmas. We all had a terrific time on the Chagres River. It was very special Christmas.

December 27, 2009 – Chargres River to SBM-18.49nm

Time to head back to Shelter Bay Marina and organize our canal transit! There are alot of ships anchored around here waiting to go through the canal. It is fun to play with the AIS radar to find out what the ships name is and where it is heading, it's length etc. Here is a pic of our chartplotter, all the triangles are ships, we are the ship with the yellow and blue arrows.

We are back in our same slip again, SBM is starting to feel like home! We have met alot of nice people during our stay here and we hope to see some again in the future.

We decided NOT to use an agent for the canal transit. Here is the procedure that we used, it sounds complicated but it really is not. The hardest part is walking around Colon with $1500.00 cash in your pocket and not getting mugged in the process. The canal will not take credit cards, you must pay cash for your transit and the deposit will be refunded after the transit assuming nothing untoward happens. You can wait several weeks for them to mail you a cheque or you can pay an administrative fee of $20.00 and they will automatically deposit it into your account after your transit.

The steps we followed were:

1. Make 15 copies of ships papers, crew list, all passports and have two passport pictures for the adults Visa which you may or may not need and have 5 copies of your last Zarpe.

2. Take Shelter Bay 8:00 am bus into town and ask the bus driver (Anthony) to take you to the port captains office for your clearance (approx.$10.00).

3. Make 5 copies of Cristobal port Captain's form.

4. Take approx. $2.00 cab drive to Canal Authority area to sign up for Canal at no cost.

5. Call admeasure office to schedule a time for them to come out to measure the boat (they will not do this if you are on the hard).

6. Take the form the admeasure gives you back onto the bus at 8:00 am to the port captains office and directly across the street is Citi bank where you need to pay CASH for the transit fee and deposit.

7. Cross the street to the Port Captain's office and clear out ( Zarpe approx.$10.00).

8. Call Tito to get the lines for $60 (but double check them as he gave us the wrong ones the first time)

9. While at Shelter Bay start looking out by the garbage across from the pool to collect free tires if you want them (we wouldn't take tires next time). There are always some coming in or Tito sells them for $3.00 each.

10. Have a party going through the locks!!!!!!!

There is a Visa you need to have to clear out of Panama. We got it for $10 x 2 in Colon at immigration but you can also just pay the $20 at immigration on your way out in Panama City.

Between the time we were measured and went through the canal was two days! Not much of a wait. The date that was given to us was December 31st. New Years Eve in Gatun Lake! December 31, 2009 is also the 10th anniversary of when the US handed over the canal authority to Panama.

We are all set and ready to go.

Our crew met us at 11:00 a.m. and we stopped at the diesel boat for fuel. We motored over to the flats anchorage where we were to meet our advisor for the Gatun Locks. A large pilot boat comes precariously close to the boat and the advisor and his briefcase literally jumps ship. Our advisor was a very chatty gringo from Texas. The Gatun Locks are a set of 3 locks going up. A large freighter was in front of us (Thor Neptune -Bangkok), then a large tour boat “Discovery” was tied to the wall and they had us tie to the Discovery. It was awkward because there was only a bow and stern line, no breast lines. The Discovery was much larger than us and their metal rubrail was right at our lifelines. We had to move all the fenders as high as they would go and then constantly push off the Discovery while chatting with the curious American tourists! For each lock, the freighter would move first, then we would untie and reverse, the Discovery would move forward tie to the wall and we would tie up again. There was alot of turbulence and current in the lock because of this.

We arrived in Gatun Lake around 5:00 p.m. We decided to anchor instead of tying to the mooring buoy. Before we even had the anchor down, the pilot boat was back and picking up our advisor. We wished him a Happy New Year and he was gone. We had a great New Years Eve, everybody swam in the fresh water lake, we ate spagetti and drank red wine and then we partied until 2:00 a.m.!!! Happy New Year 2010!