After a final coffee at the wonderful casa sucre coffee shop in casco viejo I said goodbye to team Aretha. Caspar’s parting comment to me ‘could I write a final blog encapsulating my time with them in Panama’ …
… I’m at gate 25 at Tocumen International Airport waiting for a flight to Madrid. The air conditioning works at one end of the terminal but not at the other. I’ve killed time in smarter bus stations. The cafeteria staff are more interested in their smart phones than serving customers and to obtain the wifi password in the bar one needs to buy both food and drink.
We spent two days on anchor in the Pacific before Aretha was allocated a berth at playita marina yesterday afternoon. It was wonderfully breezy at sea. The ferries steamed past day and night (from Canal cruises to day trips to the Las Perlas Islands) and at sufficient speed for Aretha to roll in their wash.
On our first night the ARC organised dinner at a local Lebanese restaurant for all the boats (15 I think) who are doing the Pacific crossing with them. In case Caspar hasn’t detailed their involvement, in simple terms, ARC do all the paperwork, which as the boats cross through different territories is pretty onerous unless you love admin, red tape and are a whizz at languages. Basically they turn these crossings into package holidays, Thomas Cook for the open ocean, one just needs a boat and deep pockets.
Anyway back to the Lebanese and we were entertained with a belly dancer who encouraged the assembled sailors to dance with her. A few of the ladies gyrated briefly before the entertainment reached new levels as a septuagenarian hit the dance floor with all the vigour and energy of a ten year old. We left the restaurant ahead of the rest with two tired children and one fast asleep and motored out to Aretha in the tender to discover the swell too strong for us to access her by the stern and we had to board on her starboard side which sounds straightforward but we’d had a few rum based cocktails and the deck was four feet above us.
There were city trips in the last few days and the children discovered Francis Drake in the pirates section at the city museum. We spotted tamarin monkeys that would fit on an adults hand on Ancon hill, passed graveyards for the thousands who died of yellow fever during the construction of the canal before it was discovered that the disease was transmitted by mosquitos. In the old town we found a delightful coffee shop, trendy restaurants and a rooftop bar with views across the city.
Boat maintenance and improvements rumble on. There are frequent trips to the chandlers to locate required kit for the SSB and essential office trips which are basically detours to the nearest bar with wifi. We travel around the city by yellow taxi at five dollars a trip. It is quick and easy and the preferred choice of transport for the locals. There are however some pretty large cracks in the taxi windscreens and somewhat alarmingly one driver found the need to use tinder whilst transporting us
Caspar specifically asked me what I would be telling people back in the UK about my time with team Aretha and mentioned that he is aware that some people think he is crazy to be undertaking such a venture.
The circumnavigation they have embarked upon is their dream and certainly not mine though it has been a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to join them and share the experience of the Panama Canal. I’ve had an amazing time. However, despite the glamour of the boat and the wonderful photos capturing life here, life here is hard work … not sympathy provoking of course because the upside is truly fantastic but it is physically uncomfortable at times, searing heat on deck in the day, hot and humid below decks. The workload on the shoulders of the adults never ceases and aside from the children, meals, washing, cleaning, education etc, the boat needs constant attention as every part is critical and whilst in a normal home repairs can occur when one has the time or inclination to attend to them, here every part needs to function to keep everyone safe and that’s before you can start sailing or throw in squalls and seasickness. I’m full of admiration for Nicola who works endlessly and without complaint though there are the occasional non confrontational eye rolls. Caspar is the driving force (and I might add, an excellent skipper and the boat rules prioritising safety inspire confidence … clearly I’m not after another trip at all!). The children’s lives are unstructured and lack the routine that those of us with school runs rely on but they are learning so much from this experience. This week the Montessori approach to schooling encompassed Spanish in the marina shop, a young frenchman crewing on another boat practiced French conversation with them, biology lessons this week took place with a practical in the jungle and then wildlife spotting in the canal followed by a whale sighting at sea and of course masses of Panamanian history and the inevitable geography. Columbus is very observant and when not talking he is taking in and retaining everything he hears delighting in particular with the stories and facts provided by the Jamaican born english speaking advisor who travelled with us from Gatun locks to the pacific.
My favourite moments; seeing Caspar tattooed, bronzed and happy on my arrival, going up the mast, Gatun locks, being on the helm through Gaillard’s cut with a crocodile on the bank to my right and a huge container ship metres away on my left (though have to admit to clenched knuckles at the time) and everyone in party mood on deck as we went under the bridge of the Americas and arrived at the Pacific Ocean. Great memories.
It’s a bittersweet departure, I can’t wait to return to my own children but I am going to miss these globetrotters.
Blue darling, thank you for all the lovely cuddles and for my morning tea. Columbus I shall miss our chats about all the wildlife we found. Willow, you’re gorgeous.