Having enjoyed a few days in the stunning San Blas Islands, the World ARC fleet headed for Shelter Bay Marina, just near Colon, Panama. The marina was a hive of activity for the entire time, with boats having work done, scrubbing the hull and getting fumigated ready for Galapagos, being measured, and getting ready for the transit of the Panama Canal. Most of our participants still managed to fit in a few sundowners and a day in the village of the indigenous Embera people.
Lifts and maintenance
About a third of the fleet needed to get lifted to carry out some kind of maintenance. Knowing that facilities are sparse on the other side of the canal for the next 3-4 months, there were boats with rudder bearings being replaced, engines being serviced and descaling and antifouling being carried out. The Galapagos Islands are understandably very strict on their biosecurity, so every single barnacle and keelworm needed to be removed!
About 95 people joined one of our visits to the Embera Puru village, and enjoyed learning more about the culture and day-to-day life of one of the largest groups of indigenous people in Panama. They accessed the village via dugout canoe, up the Pequeni River, and arrived to traditional music and a warm welcome. After being displaced from their original area of Panama, the people live in the Chagres National Park, where they are not allowed to farm to make money, so they are very happy to host tourists to assist their income stream.
Crews were slightly trepidatious about the fumigation necessary before entering Galapagos, but it was a very simple procedure lasting about 5-10 minutes, and subsequently, our crews had to leave the boat for 2 hours. In fact, one crew were delighted to have it done, as they had left some fruit slightly longer than they should and wanted to get rid of the fruit flies too!
The Canal Authorities take their job very seriously, and whilst we have supplied them with each boat’s dimensions, they need to confirm this by measuring each boat themselves. It is a quick process and whilst it is compulsory to comply with the authorities, we also like to comply - it makes sense to get it right.
Buoys and lines
Excellent talks were given on managing the all-important lines that hold each ‘nest’ or raft of boats safe in the centre of the canal lock. It is a tougher job that one might imagine, and requires absolute concentration at all times, as the line handler is not just responsible for the safety of their own boat, but on this occasion, two others as well. Large fender balls were delivered to each boat along with their 40m lines, just in case the line handlers slip up.
Having been through the canal quite a few times, Andrew explained the process in detail to the skippers of each transit group. Without photographs and diagrams, the prospect of transiting the canal can be quite a daunting one. Andrew set our skippers’ minds at rest by leaving them in no doubt as to what would be happening during the transit.
The fleet left the marina in stages, without incident except for a couple of accidental free floating fenders! They went out to anchor and await their Advisors, who were shortly on board. Once each boat had an advisor, the fleet left ‘The Flats’ and started out towards the first canal lock, leading up to Gatun Lake. Next stop, the Pacific!