Closing on the Panama Coast – 75 miles to Shelter Bay. 10 11 North. 078 58 West.

It’s 0925. The sea is flat calm, there is barely a zephyr of a breeze on the water and the iron topsail (the engine) is thudding us along at at steady 6.5 knots.

The last 36 hours have been a mixture of light winds up to 15 knots and calm seas. It’s been dry and swelteringly hot. All the hatches are open below to get some breeze through the boat. The only fly in the ointment has been the navigation equipment where we are routinely losing the autopilot and the GPS. Despite having been through as many connections as we can uncover and testing different theories we are no further forward. David has been in full action testing and working through each different part giving all his electrical engineering skills a good workout. We have an electronics expert guy lined up for when we get in – the same colourful Panamanian Dino, who sold us and then installed our SSB last year. Fingers crossed we can get this fixed rapidly and get underway again. Currently hand steering is required at least 90% of the time and alarms routinely sound every 10 minutes or so.

We changed a gas bottle this morning and fixed a small gas leak around the gas bottle attachment in the outside gas locker. Good that we can now refill and leave Panama with full gas bottles. Less exciting was discovering some weevils in the rolled oats…as I was making fresh granola this morning and I noticed that the assorted foods in the baking tray were moving. The fish were fed well this morning as we dispatched our full supply of rolled oats over the side. Fresh fish to compensate though – a perfectly formed yellow fin tuna hopped on the line last night. Mindy and Columbus filleted the 3kg fish – Columbus served up Ceviche last night…hopefully sushi on the menu for lunch today.

The food on this leg has been exceptional – Galen, Mindy and David have all brought their own flavours and we can expect more of the same on the next leg to San Francisco.

I asked all the crew yesterday for some of their highlights from what has been a very happy voyage. In no particular order:

– Seeing the largest and most excited pod of dolphins that I think any of us have seen – hundreds of them jumping high out of the water
– The excellent food
– Playing bingo and seeing Willow laughing uncontrollably at number 27,,poopy pants.
– Calling Bluebell and singing her happy birthday yesterday – she is sorely missed by everyone
– The conversations we’ve all shared on deck
– Steering Aretha by the moon and the stars
– Working as a team
– Waving goodbye to our friends in Rodney Bay

We’re now some 40 miles from the Panama headland near where we stopped at Portobello and the San Blas Islands. Lots of memories flooding back from meeting the World ARC Fleet for the first time. Tinged with sadness though that last night was Nichola’s last night passage on Aretha for some time…it’s hard to take in that we’ve been living this adventure for the past 7 years and now it is truly coming to an end as Nichola and Willow leave Aretha in a few days time to fly to San Francisco to check out schools and places to live. The counter is that excitement is definitely building for the next leg and then for our plans in San Francisco.

So, tomorrow evening we are joined by my brother Max who flies out to join us for the Canal Transit. The temptation to join Aretha for one last section before we stop in SF clearly too much to resist. Either that or he has urgent paperwork in Panama to cover up offshore tax havens!!

Then in 5 days we are joined by one of my crew from BT Global Challenge days. Frank will fly to Panama and then sail all the way to SF with us where he has lived for most of the past 10 years. Frank amongst a whole host of accomplishments in his life previously won Iron Man Hawaii so maybe we might have some fitness on board to accompany all the fine dining we are having.

Tonight, we should arrive in Shelter Bay around sunset having dodged many ships – as we get closer the frequency increases and we have some 10 around us at the moment within a 15 mile range. I’d be a lot happier if our AIS digital signature was working better but at least we have calm clear conditions. Long standing Team Aretha member Paul passed us last night on the cruise liner Arcadia having exited the canal late afternoon headed for Aruba. Sadly we didn’t make contact as we had hoped….we both knew were close on the ocean at least.

Once we’ve arrived, our agent Roy has arranged an Ad Measurer to measure Aretha for our transit – it typically takes 3-4 days then to get a slot to transit the canal. We’ll have plenty to do – Kiwi Mike who we enjoyed spending time with last time and who worked on our rig is booked in for a few beers, to bring his son Harley over to go fishing with Columbus (Columbus has saved the yellow fin tuna tail for Harley) and to fix our Watt and Sea bracket.

As soon as we are through the canal, its time to restock and diesel up and then head off. The world class team for heading North is completed by leading meteorologist Chris Tibbs who will be providing weather routing for us to help guide us up between the Pacific High and the southbound currents. It promises to be an interesting voyage with the estimated 4,000 miles wrapped up by sailing Aretha under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Time to dodge ships again,

Team Aretha sailing into Panama, Out.

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  1. Sounds like a very happy boat! Good luck Nicola and Willow (they will be sorely missed) Aretha enjoy your second canal passage – I remember how excited we all were 15 months ago – I would do it all again in a heartbeat! Love to you all and happy sailing x

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