Category Archives: 5. Panama to Tahiti

Through The Canal!

Happy crew about to leave Shelter Bay: Tim, David (friend assisting with line handling), Zeke, "Gato" (hired line handler), Bill.
Happy crew about to leave Shelter Bay: Tim, David (friend assisting with line handling), Zeke, “Gato” (hired line handler), Bill.
Lots of activity approaching the Gatun Locks.  Our pilot/advisor looks on.
Lots of activity approaching the Gatun Locks. Our pilot/advisor looks on.
We will share a lock with this ship, as well as "nesting" with two other yachts.
We will share a lock with this ship, as well as “nesting” with two other yachts.
Maggie, OM and No Regrets in a "nest".
Maggie, OM and No Regrets in a “nest”.

I have no photos currently of passing through the Gatun Locks because it was getting too dark.  I will probably have some from other sources later.

Next day cruising through Gatun Lake.
Next day cruising through Gatun Lake.
Approaching Miraflores Locks.
Approaching Miraflores Locks.
Water up.  (Web cam mounted atop visitor center building on left.)
Water up. (Web cam mounted atop visitor center building on left.)
Water down and gates opening.
Water down and gates opening.

Lots more photos and video to be shared when I have a real wifi connection…  Very happy to be on the Pacific side of the Canal.  We’re at anchor; Tim has gone to try to clear out with immigrations.  We still have a quest for an alternator repair that we’re trying to complete before we depart, though we’re all anxious to head south for the Galapagos!!

Canal Transit Preparation

The first batch of six Odyssey boats completed their canal transit today, We are scheduled to transit with four other boats starting tomorrow, probably late afternoon, probably reaching Gatun Lake after dark, and spending the night there. Tuesday should be an early start, and into the Pacific by late afternoon. It’s all a little uncertain because we’re in the middle of Carnival, which is a big holiday here, and we can’t count on people showing up and keeping promises after they’ve been out partying all night…

The boat is probably more ready than it has been for any departure to date. New alternator is working. Oil has been changed (earlier than recommended, but if we don’t do it here, then we’d probably have trouble disposing of the old oil). Replacement for broken fitting on boom is procured and installed. Newly fabricated fittings to improve the strength of the screecher side stays arrived and are in place. Missing bolts in jib roller furler have been replaced. New propeller is installed on hydrogenerator. We’ve topped up our diesel tanks. We’ve filled our water tanks.

We did our big provisioning run to the supermarket in Colon, an hour’s bus ride away. Because we were spending $500, the supermarket offers a van to bring us back to the boat. I’m uncertain just how long we’re trying to provision for. Can we get food (that we want to eat) in the Galapagos? In the Marquesas? But really it doesn’t much matter. We couldn’t pack any more food on the boat anyway. Our lockers are FULL.

The one thing we still need is some fresh food: bread, fruit, veggies. I’m hoping the “mini-market” at the marina will have enough of these things to make do. We should have some basic fresh fruit and break to feed our canal Advisor/pilot and line handlers. We’ll find out in the morning…

Emotionally we’re all ready to go. We’ve been here long enough (it’s been a week).

The Canal has web cameras (still photos, not video) that update every 30 or 60 seconds. There are high resolution images for the Gatun Locks and Miraflores Lock. We will pass through the former tomorrow evening, but it will probably be too dark to see us. Tuesday afternoon, though, perhaps around 1:30pm (Panama and Eastern USA time, 1830 UTC), we should be at the Miraflores Lock. The photos are from quite a distance, so don’t expect to recognize anything more than the distinctive shape of our boat. We will have our tracker turned on, so if you want you can watch our progress on the BPO web site, and when we get close to the Miraflores Lock (toward the south end of the Canal) you can check the web cam and try to spot us (and watch the water level drop in the lock).

Our understanding is that we will move through the locks in a “nest” with Maggie and Om. Om has the most powerful engines, which will probably put them in the center, with Maggie lashed along one side and us rafted to the other. This arrangement doesn’t make much sense, though, as it leaves the largest and smallest monohulls rafted together. Maybe our Advisors will change the plan — it is all up to them. Everything is subject to change, including our starting time.

This is probably my last “wifi opportunity” for quite some time — at least until we arrive in the Galapagos, and maybe not even then. So no more photos for a while, but I’ll be sending occasional updates via SSB radio and asking Hallie to post them for me. I have enjoyed all the comments y’all have posted. Keep ’em coming, even though I don’t see them until I get to the next wifi spot.

Team Rock! Questions

Do you guys have to do daylight savings time on the sea?

Time at sea is an interesting thing.  The three of us could declare it to be any time we want, and it wouldn’t much matter, EXCEPT that sometimes we have scheduled radio calls with other boats.  Our time has to be in sync with their time or we miss the call.  If their boat is far east or west of ours, then it might be in a different “time zone,” and saying we’re going to have a call at 3pm could lead to problems — 3pm their time might not be the same as 3pm our time.  (In California, for example, it is 3 hours earlier than in Maine, so 3pm on the West Coast is 6pm in Maine.)

In order to avoid this confusion at sea, sailors refer to UTC time.  (UTC stands for the French phrase for Universal Coordinated Time.)  This used to be called GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), referring to the time in Greenwich, England, and it may also be called Zulu time.  All of these refer to the time at longitude 0 degrees.  If another boat agrees to a radio call at 1600 UTC (4pm at 0 degrees longitude), each boat can figure out what time that is locally.  In our current time zone (same as Maine), we are 5 hours earlier than UTC, so it would be at 1100 (11am) local time.  UTC time does not get adjusted for daylight savings.  So once Maine goes on daylight savings time, the difference between Maine and UTC will become 4 hours instead of 5 hours.

To keep things simple, many boats at sea just set the clock to UTC time and stop thinking about what time it is locally, so you don’t have to keep converting back and forth.  In that case the crew doesn’t have to “do” daylight savings time, until they interact with people ashore, when you have to get in sync with everyone else.

What do you mean by “gringos?”

In most of Latin America, including in Panama, “gringo” generally refers to any citizen of the United States.  In some cases it is applied primarily to white people, but not exclusively so.  It sometimes is used in a disparaging way (an American who does not respect the local culture, maybe doesn’t speak Spanish or doesn’t try to, who expects things to be like what they are accustomed to in the USA instead of adapting to the local ways), but often it is simply referring to one’s origin.  The three of us aboard No Regrets are gringos.

How long do you think it might be before global warming goes into full effect?

This is a hard one!  First of all, the term “global warming” is not used much anymore, because when Maine has a winter with record snowfall and cold temperatures, it doesn’t appear that “warming” is occurring at all.  Usually the term “climate change” is used instead, since this is all-encompassing of temperature variations, shifts in rain and snowfall, length of seasons, and other factors that scientists tell us are changing primarily due to increased carbon levels in our atmosphere.  Climate change is not intrinsically a bad thing, and in fact we know that there are huge changes to the climate over thousands of years due to factors that are mostly beyond human control (e.g., volcanic eruptions; ice ages).  But climate change is very disruptive.  It will change the coastline; it will force people near the coast out of their homes; it may cause droughts that will destroy traditional farmlands; it may cause floods; etc.  So climate change is generally considered “bad” in the context of things under human control (like how much coal and oil we burn), and “just the way it is” in the context of “geologic time” (many thousands of years).

I am no expert on climate change.  But my belief is that the effects caused by humans burning fossil fuels are already happening, and cannot be readily turned back.  We know that the average ocean water temperature has been rising.  This causes the water to expand a little, and the only way it can expand is “up,” so sea level rises slightly.  We also know that Greenland and Antarctic ice has been melting, which also contributes to sea level rise.  I think these trends cannot quickly be reversed.  So even though they have not yet caused widespread disruptions, I think we will see incremental changes/disruptions over many years to come, even if humans were to reduce the burning of fossil fuels now.

One aspect of the Blue Planet Odyssey is to raise these questions and call attention to them.  We need to think about the possible long-term effects of our collective behavior, and push our leaders to make well-informed policy choices.

Is it easy to sleep on the boat?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no.   When we are in a marina like we are now, where the water is calm and the boat is well protected, it’s pretty much like sleeping at home.  When we’re sailing in substantial waves, it is much harder.  It becomes noisy, the boat can toss you around on your berth, and occasinally a wave will slap the side or bottom of the boat with a jarring thud that is almost impossible to sleep through.

But on passage we get into a rhythm of sleeping when we can, and even when it is rough we eventually become so exhausted that we sleep, or do something close to it.

When sailing in smooth waters it can be delightful to lie in your berth and feel the energy of the boat moving, and the gentle surge of the ocean, and this can put one right to sleep.  But smooth waters generally means “along shore,” which usually means short day sails, and thus we are not often trying to sleep in these conditions.

If you had all the money in the world, what would you buy for the people on the island, and why?

I’m going to assume by “people on the island” you refer to the local Guna people on the many San Blas islands.  Let me know if I’m not answering your intended question.

When Jimmy Cornell planned the Blue Planet Odyssey, he wrote to an administrator of the Guna, and asked if there was some way that we could contribute.  Jimmy was thinking of helping to build something — a school or a water cachement system.  The response he got was that they didn’t want our help with such things, and if we wanted to help we should contribute money to a scholarship fund to help send some young people to college.

I’m very skeptical about efforts to help other people, other than to help them do what they are committed to doing anyway.  So I think a scholarship fund to help students who want to attend college is a good idea, and that is one thing I would do.  Other things tend to have unexpected/unintended consequences.  It’s tempting to give outboard motors to people paddling canoes, but this might cause big (and potentially troublesome) changes in the culture that I couldn’t foresee.

What kind of transportation did they use on San Blas island?

You may have already figured out the answer to this from my recent posts.  Almost all transportation is by boat, and in most cases the boats are dugout canoes (some with little sailing rigs) or larger skiffs with outboards.  There are no cars, because the individual islands are too tiny.  I don’t recall even seeing any carts or wheelbarrows.  There are small airports on a couple of the islands, usually with one small plane per day coming/going to the mainland.