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Mistral of Portsmouth - Shelter Bay … the marina on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal

We got into the Marina at 8am and had a busy day cleaning, doing laundry, filling up with water and generally getting ourselves ready for a haul out the following day. The boat was due out of the water to have her hull cleaned and anti-fouled ahead of the sail to Galapagos where there are very strict regulations regarding the state of the boat and what we can take into the islands in terms of food e.g. no fruit with seeds, no eggs, no chicken fresh or frozen (they are worried about avian flu). We had booked ourselves into a Hotel in Colon - a 25 minute taxi ride away in the nearest town whilst the boat is out of the water.

The boat came out mid afternoon. Hauling out is always scary - our 27 ton boat in a cradle being hauled by a crane onto solid ground! We watch with our hearts in our mouths! We have to find somewhere to keep all the frozen food as the electricity is turned off but all went well and with excitement, we went off to the Radisson Hotel. Colon is famous for its part in the creation of the Panama Canal over 100 years ago and I was interested to see it …. It was quite an experience … it’s incredibly run down, grubby and feels very unsafe. The only reason to go there is if you have to, to get somewhere else. We decided that we would not be venturing outside of the hotel without escorts! Taxis are terrifying - one of our drives had no mirror, a badly cracked windscreen and holes where the door handles should have been. We are alive to tell the tale!

The hotel wasn’t special but had good wifi, good bathrooms, a decent pool and a comfortable bed. I am super grateful for these luxuries! We had to go back to the marina each day to check on the work being done to the boat and for our briefings on transiting the canal (more to come on this!) but in between, managed some provisioning and more importantly, a great visit to the Aqua Clara visitor centre where you have a fabulous view of the canal and how it works.

The canal is a feat of engineering - fascinating to see and understand its 150 year history. We saw a massive tanker go through the first 2 locks from the Atlantic on its way to the Pacific. There are 3 locks that take the boats up to the Gaton lake. There is a 50 mile crossing of the lake then another 3 locks that take the boats down into the Pacific Ocean and under the bridge of the Americas. I can’t believe we are going through the canal on Mistral! Truly, a huge adventure.

It’s possible to see footage live as we go through … if you are interested here is the link!

We will be going through at 6.45pm today - we are 5 hours behind the U.K. We will be rafted up with Far and Amanzi (2 ARC boats) travelling through the canal in a nest of 3 boats. More to come on this part of our journey.

We also had a day trip up the Chagres river to visit a traditional Embera Indian community. It was a magical day. Travelling in a motorised dug out with the local native Indians who are doing all they can to continue to live as they have done in the jungle for many hundreds of years. The scenery was spectacular and the community charming, gentle and proud. Stunning craft work available for purchase when we had been educated about their history, culture and way of life. Another memory for life.

Final news is that Laura arrived last night. Very excited to see her! She managed to co-ordinate a South American trip with our going through the canal so is here for a few days … helping us through the canal. Jane and Tim leave tomorrow when we arrive in Panama … it will be very strange to be without all their help, support, patience and humour … they will be a hard act to follow!



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