Pippa’s Blog – Life on Aretha and prepping for departure

Day 2 Onboard Aretha

It’s past five in the morning and we have just been woken by heavy rain. The windows are now shut and the cabin temperature is rising.  The warmth of the tropics is most welcome but we are not in air conditioning so it is very sticky below decks.

Yesterday Nicola and Caroline left the marina at 8am on a minibus heading to the supermarket on the outskirts of Colon.  They returned by taxi later in the afternoon with provisions to last for months and then began the task of logging everything on a computer. There are food storage cupboards all over the boat, under the bunks, behind seating and without being able to pop out to Waitrose, knowing what food is on board and where it is becomes rather important. It’s a mammoth task. The volume of their purchases is enormous and covers every surface of the cabin including the floor.  The children are all on great form and find perches amongst the bags and watch
chocolate, sweets and crisps being unloaded.

The washing marathon from the last trip has taken two days.  Sacks of washing have been lugged to the marina launderette with some drying in machines and other items on lines on the deck.

I’m full of admiration at the level of grit and determination on board.  I thought the hard part of this adventure would be raising the capital to facilitate such a dream or the final months of planning and organisation of such a huge change in lifestyle but seeing the relentless workload on the shoulders of the adults I’m beginning to think that the actual dream is the tough part.  Amazing of course but not for the faint hearted.

Caspar and Nicola attended a skippers planning meeting last night to learn all the detail required for the canal and later over dinner Caspar held a briefing for the children with the aid of charts  and then a more serious one for the adults.  The excitement at the thought of the trip is still there though I’m starting to feel distinctly nervous thinking about the magnitude of the locks, the forces in the water which will put a rip tide in its place and the practicalities of rafting up with other boats. Slightly alarming is the fact that someone from the boat has to jump onto a large mooring buoy in Gatun Lake (with crocodiles) to take a rope through a ring. I’m glad Caspar has a wealth of sailing experience though I don’t envy him the responsibility.


Day 1 Onboard Aretha

It’s swelteringly hot and Caspar and the children are in the pool and Nicola and Caroline are returning from Colon with provisions for the week.  This morning we kept busy sanitising ropes, cleaning the fridge and freezer in preparation for fresh food and winching Caspar up the mast for necessary maintenance.

I joined the boat yesterday morning after a two and a half hour taxi ride from the city. My planned Panamanian railroad trip being scuppered by my foolishly interpreting a daily train service to mean just that. It didn’t.  Arriving at Gatun Locks a huge queue was forming as a ship was starting to enter the first lock heading south. The taxi driver picked up a couple of locals also heading to Shelter Bay. Communication was tricky, the three Panamanians didn’t speak a word of English between them (I had previously negotiated the taxi fare with pen and paper) and the limit of my Spanish is two beers please which wasn’t particularly useful. The city taxi driver was clearly out of his territory and not surprisingly had no idea where we were going. There were no road signs, no road markings, lots of pot holes and jungle to either side of us out of which leapt three large raccoon like marsupials. I’m not sure who was more excited to see them, my fellow passengers or me.

Arriving at Shelter Bay Marina I found Caspar on Aretha.  He’s sporting a primitive tattoo which encircles his upper left arm and combined with the dark tan and long unruly hair, he looks quite wild, but very happy.  Mummy, don’t worry, it’s not a real tattoo.

Aretha is spotless, not at all what I had expected considering the time the family have been on board. I was last on deck in Southampton and then Aretha was just a boat.  Now she feels like a home and it’s a privilege to be here with everyone.

We head off through the first lock, Gatun tomorrow evening. It will be dark when we go through so I’m off on a lock visit later with Columbus to see the operation prior to the actual practical.  The others have already visited and know the form.


Caspar in the Embara Tribe, Panama

Caspar in the Embara Tribe, Panama

Gatun Locks

Gatun Locks

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