I’m in Shelter Bay Marina. In Panama. Right next to the Atlantic entrance to the canal that will take me from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. And I get the same feeling here as I got back in Lanzarote. A feeling of excitement for what comes next. Back in the Canaries it was the excitement of my first ocean crossing. Here it is the anticipation of a really short land crossing. Six locks, three up and three down, and I’ll be so far away. A few miles that make all the difference. I’ll be on ‘the other side’. A side of the world that is only blue. If you have a globe at home, turn it to the Pacific side and you’ll see. Otherwise just use Google Earth. There really is almost nothing out there other than water. Exciting and a little scary at the same time. Like any adventure should be.
I’ve been here for two weeks now and I am surrounded by cruisers that do what I do. Prepare for the canal and the longest crossing they will ever do. There are a lot less of us than there were back in the Canaries as this is a bigger commitment. When you cross the Atlantic, you can always go back to where you came from. A few months later, a bit further north. But this feels more like a one way ticket. Shit or get off the pot, if you get excuse the expression. Miles and miles of open ocean awaits you on the other side. It’s at least 4,000 Nm or approximately a month of sailing until you get to French Polynesia. And then it’s probably another 6,000 Nm until you get to a place where you can fix serious boat problems. So this is the place to get those final parts sent. The stuff that you hope you will never need, for systems that will be hard to live without. I just received parts for the engine and the autopilot but I’m constantly thinking of more things. Where will I store it all? I’m turning into the hoarder that I used to joke about. The one that dies first when the zombies attack. Killed by other survivors for their stash!
The plan is to go through the canal in a month’s time. That will give me time to explore San Blas on the Atlantic side and Las Perlas after the canal. I’ve engaged an agent to help me with the arrangements and the communication with the Panama Canal Company. The process has been initiated by an inspection by the canal authorities where they measured Saoirse and briefed me on what is expected of me as a captain. Most of these expectations seem to relate to the ‘needs’ of the pilot that will guide me through the canal. Dietary, lavatorial and general comfort needs. Having assured the inspector that I will meet these needs and that Saoirse is both seaworthy and capable of maintaining the minimum speed through the canal, I passed the inspection and now it’s just a matter of paying for the transfer and book a date for the passage. The agent will supply me with four long lines, a large number of massive fenders and, if required, up to four line handlers. The alternative to hiring line handlers is to bring on crew yourself. Either people from boats that want to see what it’s like before they go through with their boats or friends and family. So if anyone out there is interested in seeing one of the wonders of the modern world from the ‘inside’ and visit the spectacular San Blas or Las Perlas archipelagos, this would be an excellent opportunity to come and visit Saoirse. It’s easy and relatively cheap to fly to Panama City from most places.
In the meantime, I will keep preparing Saoirse and myself here at base camp. Getting ready for another mountain to climb. The next delivery I’m waiting for contains 22 courtesy flags for small islands nations that most of us have never heard of. Countries like Kiribati, Vanuatu, Tuvalu and Niue. Pretty cool, eh?