Daddy, I’m hungry. 07 10 North 80 23 West

It’s surprisingly quiet on board Team Aretha today. The highlights of today in no particular order have been:

– playing Minecraft with Columbus – we went hunting for squid and zombies and slayed some chickens and pigs. Then reading the Elephant Whisperer.
– Excellent meals on board – delicious scrambled eggs by Frank and a beetroot and cheese salad by David
– Countless dolphins today and a turtle just before we rounded Punta Mala leaving the Gulf of Panama
– Making 9 knots with full sail up and positive current with us
– Great discussions on deck about company pay schemes and incentivising people – the hot topic was around public disclosure of pay
– Mindy’s cabin getting a dousing with a rogue wave coming through the partially closed fore hatch.

What has been noticeably absent is a small person switched onto full power like a duracell bunny from 6am with 227 consecutive requests….Daddy …I’m hungry, Daddy, I want juice, Daddy, I want a toy etc etc. Quiet yes and we are all missing both Willow and Nichola.

Saying goodbye to them yesterday was a total blur as you’ll see in a moment, but just winding back the clock ……

We had a week in Shelter Bay after a calm and happy sail to Panama from St Lucia. We met some lovely people there – Elizabeth from San Francisco who together with Donna (completing her second solo circumnavigation in a 28 foot yacht with no engine) had an impromptu duet singing with ukulele’s by the shelter bay pool. We met Glynn from Watevaworks, a worldly Kiwi who we transited the canal with, and a father, daughter and boyfriend team complete with their dog sailing on their way to San Diego. There were many other great characters too, Betsy from the States who we discovered mutual connections with (another Betsy) and we received a tonne of very helpful advice on our passage North. Columbus made a new minecraft buddy Jonah who who had travelled overland from the US to Panama with his family. It’s such a lovely thing about the sailing community about how willing people are to help each other out.

Max, my brother flew out for his third passage on Aretha and we were also joined by Frank who was only planning to sail from the Pacific side, but a delayed transit meant he got to transit the canal as well. Less good was the delay that meant Max had to miss the transit to get his flight back home – I’m certain Max will be back here …maybe on his own boat at some point in the future.

We reconnected with old friends – the colourful Kiwi Mike and his son Harley – Columbus’s fishing buddy, Dino, our electrical guy here and familiar faces from the marina.

David worked like a trojan to fix our electronics and dismantled and rewrote the wiring system fitting a new GPS at the same time. The original problems of losing the autopilot and GPS data have now thankfully passed. We just need to sort out now the dodgy heading data and we will have a fully functioning nav system again.

David, Columbus, Galen and myself all had to trot down to the US Embassy to apply for B1/B2 visas which you need if you enter the US by sea. The Brit contingent were successful; sadly the South African party of Galen was less successful and despite 2 attempts his visa was denied. He flies back to South Africa today and is already missed on board.

The Panama transit was largely uneventful. At least to start with. We left Shelter Bay on the Saturday afternoon and after refuelling headed over to the flats area to await our advisor. He joined us around 430pm and we proceeded to Gatun Locks. We had a small technical fault with the windlass in overdrive – David leaping around between the bow and the electronics downstairs managed to cut the wires in the absence of the breakers stopping the power. One to be sorted later on.

It was very familiar from our experience from before and definitely less nerve wracking second time around. We were to raft with Watevaworks and a French boat – with us the largest boat in the middle. This meant our job was to keep the raft straight while the 2 outside boats handled the 4 lines to hold us steady in the locks. We were in the chambers with a large cargo ship, Gloria – she went in first and we tucked in behind her. We went up through the first 3 locks and emerged into Gatun Lake where we anchored for the night in some 18 metres of water…equal to 70 metres of anchor chain for the guys to haul in manually.

Our new advisor arrived by launch around 930 am – we already had our anchor up and were ready to go by the time he arrived and we motored through the canal system spotting familiar sights – the Titan Crane built to Hitlers order for lifting submarines onto ships, the prison where General Noriega is under arrest, the entrance to the waterways of the River Chagres where the Emberra tribe live and the wildlife that abounds. Past the Gamboa, the Gaillard Cut, Centennial Bridge and finally to the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks. En route we discovered the brochures that Bluebell and Columbus made with Caroline when we transited before and we enjoyed re-reading them and the quality of their work.

David still had data on his phone so we all hotspotted off him – enough to email and Facebook – we loved all the feedback that you could see us waving and the pics that came back. Thank you everyone. We enjoyed the virtual connections : )

Once out, we unrafted and headed towards the Bridge of America’s. 1 mile away and the sky filled with black clouds and torrential rain of Biblical proportions. Visibility was 10 metres at best. Just what you want when surrounded by large ships moving in all directions.

We motored under the Bridge of the Americas and briefly celebrated crossing from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean with 3 cheers for Team Aretha before rain and shitty visibility forced us back to high alert. We motored to Balboa Yacht Club where we were to meet our agent, Roy who would take Nichola, Willow and Galen off the boat, give us back our passports and ZARPE clearance documents to leave Panama and collect their lines and fenders. We waited in the torrential rain outside the Yacht Club fuel berth for a good hour holding Aretha on the engine for him to arrive. The light was going and we needed to get underway as we still had to clear Panama. It was tense onboard as we couldn’t connect with Roy and had to wait. Eventually the fuel pontoon cleared and we tied up alongside with the wind pushing us on meaning we needed every fender to protect Aretha from getting damaged. Still no Roy. The fuel berth guy didn’t want us there and was starting to write us a ticket to bill us.

We decided to get Nichola, Willow and Galen off the boat. With bags getting soaked we helped them off and Galen helped Nichola and Willow to the dry of the yacht club and then came back to help us with our lines. It was a hasty rushed goodbye in torrential rain – no time for emotional goodbyes – it was brief and to the point – I just wanted them to be safely off the boat.

Finally Roy arrived with our papers and and we hastily checked them and were off. David took the bows with a spotlight to pick our way past mooring buoys and boats, Frank cleared the decks while Mindy prepared supper. The first hour was tense as we worked our way down the channel just outside the shipping lanes and then picked our way carefully through the ships – mostly moored but some underway. After a couple of hours the rain eased and the seas became clearer. the adrenaline was able to subside.

We went into watches and its been motoring with occasional sailing ever since. Fingers crossed it stays uneventful.

It goes without saying that the core team of Nichola, Willow and Bluebell are massively missed and in ways that will only become clearer in the days to come. Right now, our focus is on getting there safely and fast and enjoying the passage. Its great to have a crew who get on and are enjoying each others company.

Columbus and I are spending more time together and he has taken to sleeping in Nichola’s bunk – he is happy enough and Minecraft is a regular feature. Highlight of the day for him was making banana bread with Frank – all are happy:)

Team Aretha sailing the Coast of Panama. Out.

PS Update from David. Nav heading system now fixed. Hooray.

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