Our 2-3 week intended stay turned into a 5-week stint at Shelter Bay. Upon rounding the breakwater to the second busiest port in the world with Stu and I on high alert and tensions a little high, it all went very smoothly. We rounded the breakwater to the entrance of the Colon port where there were around 12 Cargo ships on anchor on either side of the main channel to enter the port. We were aware that we needed to call the Cristobel Signal station when we wanted to go through the breakwater, but we later learnt they wanted to be called when even crossing the channel which is totally fair as there are always giant ships coming and going.
Stu radioed the call station and we were told to proceed avoiding the cargo ships. The breakwater was made of giant pieces of concrete and the red and green lateral marker buoys were huge, more like giant rectangular TVs or led light signs. We were through the breakwater with much excitement as we have thought about coming to the port of Colon for a long time, as it marks the start of our Pacific crossing adventure! Once inside the breakwater, next was to find the green marker close to the starboard side of the breakwater, there were anchoring buoys for ships with explosives or highly volatile cargo, that we needed to keep to our port and the breakwater to our starboard with the green buoys also to port, which were scarce till we got closer to the marina. We were aware of the shoal to our port and could see 3 ship wrecks on it, also a little reef to our starboard. All was well and we even got a spot thanks to Stu sweet talking the harbour master to give us a spot at the end of the T of the dock, so much easier to dock our wide boat as we have not a lot of practice at docking. Though Stu is now an expert Captain and when we were there we befriended a German guy called Klaus who just brought himself and his family a lovely catamaran 50’ long. He is sailing it back to Thailand single handed. Klaus had never helmed a cat before (plenty of experience on mono hulls), and Stu offered to help him go into the dock to get it hauled on the giant travel lift for boat repairs. Anyway long story trying to be short is, Stu ended up driving the catamaran into the dock for him!!!! With a very tight space to manoeuvre a cat he had never driven with controls more like a joy stick he said, with no feel to it!!! What a man.
We also met another inspirational sailor who was preparing to sail his monohull back to New Zealand, non-stop (50-70 days at sea) and sell it there, that’s how he makes money. The thing is, he is in a wheel chair as he’s a paraplegic!!! I can’t imagine sailing that far let alone with a disability- gutsy guy. He has done it numerous times before also. Apparently he gets a fair amount of media attention, rightly so, though he says it’s a pain in the butt! He also says he would like to have a potato farm and a laundry mat to make money!!!
Shelter Bay was a fun place though very very hot with little wind, talk about mould central, no see ums and mozzies! The mould was returning after 3-4 weeks in that hot box of a bay. It was based where the old American Army Barracks used to be. Many, many well-built two story buildings and forts were abandoned, but left in good condition and even left furnished for the Panamanians to use. When the Canal was handed back to the Panamanians in 1914 that’s when the Americans left. Unfortunately, the buildings were not taken up and are now in ruins. The kids and I had many an exciting walk through the old church, the forts in pitch black full of bats and it is surrounded by full on jungle. An awesome lady called Sheralee took us on a walk and showed us the frog foam that is highly poisonous, we missed the howler monkeys this time and showed us an old oven that was supposed to be a relic from the war times. I sure hope she has her boat sorted and is crossing the canal with the skipper she has hired. Poor Sheralee has had a bad time being fully mucked around by just about everyone she dealt with in Shelter bay, but that’s a long story. Many cruisers helped her out and were very kind to her.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t help her much except be an ear as we had boat troubles of our own. Stu got a quote to get the daggerboard fixed, it was all taking way too long and in awesome Stu style he had it fixed in 2 days, done by himself! Then we discovered the engine was over heating, more about that below. During a lightning storm in San Blas, our wind sensor died so we had to order one of those, never easy in a place like Panama where they don’t seem to have a chandlery that is stocked or a postal address, so a mailbox was needed to be organized. We also got the trampolines re-stitched as there was a whole in one, that was a mission to remove and re knot every rope. Loads of last minute things to do.
Shelter bay was awesome for the kids and socially, everyone is in the same boat just about to do the crossing and comparing notes and doing boat jobs. The kids did school most mornings then off playing with newly made friends, in the pool or off in the jungle with strict instructions (Jake with older kids). One time I let Alex go with them, Alex was walking along with his head down then when he finally looked up he realized armed army soldiers were right in front of him (complete with full uniform and weapons). Alex stood still and raised his hands up as to surrender!!!! The boys behind thought this was hilarious, the soldiers lowered their guns even more! The boys were told to leave the area for the day due to training exercises. They high tailed it out of there with an exciting and funny story to be told!
We met up again with our friends from S/V Bonaire. We met them more recently in Bonaire, so they spent up big on hats and merchandise as their boat is named the islands name! We were stoked to see them again as they will be spending cyclone season in French Polynesia too (though in a different area), and they have 2 boys our boys age. They are quality people; we really enjoy hanging out with them.
We met up with Kia Ora again much to our delight, two Aussies from Margaret River. They gave us their paper charts to copy, we also obtained some other charts, so I’m feeling better about our navigation backups now. I always wanted paper charts of the Pacific and now we have them J -thanks John and Franny. Franny reminds me of our mums, I ended up calling her mum a few times 😉
We had some BBQs at the outdoor cruisers area, the kids discovered fire flies in the grass!!!! Panama is full of surprises, and this was another one! Along with cutter ants, sloths, howler monkeys scaring us with their intensely loud barking noises, cappuccino monkeys, hanging nests in the trees that look like giant water droplets, strange looking insects and spiders, turkey vultures, crocs, poisonous frog foam and bats galore -this was a pretty special place indeed that was full of creatures to discover.
Thanks for reading from the crew from Neverland xxxx