Since we arrived through the Panama Canal to the Pacific side, we have been organizing, planning, and working on preparations for our move west. We have two critical upcoming passages: the Galapagos, and then, the longest passage of the year, to the French Marquesas. We need to make sure Tahina is in ship-shape – all major systems functioning smoothly, tanks filled (fuel, propane, and water), maintenance tasks performed, etc. We also need to make sure we have our paperwork in order to leave, and to enter the upcoming countries. And, we have to make sure we have provisioned everything we can because boat parts and food can be both expensive and hard to find in our upcoming destinations.
We have been ordering some important spares and needed parts and sending them to my friend Andy hoping to find a way to get them to us here in Panama. We finally decided to simply fly Karen home so she can bring the items back in her luggage. When we first looked at flights, the tickets seemed reasonable. But, because of our sliding schedule on the canal transit, we opted to wait to buy the tickets once we were through. When we went to buy the tickets, they were much more expensive. Karen is still thrilled to go home, since she can see friends and family during her three day stay in Raleigh. She left Sunday and will be back on Wednesday.
This anchorage – La Playita at the outskirts of the canal entrance – is missing usable WIFI, so we have to dinghy ashore and walk 1/2 mile to a Internet cafe. I purchased a SIM card for the phone so we have a working phone. Over the weekend, we not only got Karen’s tickets, but spent time processing photos and blogging. We also went out to eat the first night and found an excellent ice cream store on the way to the Internet cafe! There’s a chandlery near the dinghy dock with many items we need, but we’re waiting until “discount Wednesday” for the bigger purchases (30% off day).
On Friday night, we coordinated a dinner get together with David and Edel (the couple who accompanied us to San Blas). They had finished touring Panama and were preparing to leave on Saturday to head to the US on their way home to Ireland. We had a nice dinner with them in the historic part of Panama City. The historic part is also in a rather run-down part of the city and we were kind of nervous riding through the town in the taxi. But, the restaurant was excellent with a 6 course meal. Read about it on Lara’s blog.
Before Karen left, on Saturday, we hired a taxi to take us to a large grocery store in Panama City and Karen loaded two carts with more provisions for the upcoming months. Lara and I came along to help with the shopping, while Jason worked on a couple of boat projects back on the boat. The taxi driver is also a customs agent, and he will be helping with our paperwork to clear out of Panama. We also discovered we have to clear in to the west side of Panama (apparently you clear out of the east side as part of the canal transit paperwork). The taxi driver will also help us with our shopping and filling our propane tanks.
At the end of last week, we contacted an agent in the Galapagos to organize our entry into that country. Visiting the Galapagos by boat requires more significant paperwork (and fees) than any port I’m aware of on our circumnavigation. It’s especially important to get a multi-port pass which allows us to move to at least three islands in the Galapagos. Otherwise, it can be both very expensive and challenging to see much while visiting there. For example, it can cost several hundred dollars per person to take a cruise to one of the islands with the most wildlife. Given that the Galapagos has more unique species and wildlife per square kilometer than almost anywhere in the world, we really want to make sure we maximize our chances to tour the islands properly.
On Sunday, after dropping Karen at the airport, I spent some time reviewing the boat systems with our new crew. We went over sailing procedures and crew responsibilities and I enhanced a crew review checklist in the process. Later in the day, when the wind filled in, we took Tahina out for a trial sail to review the learning. And, we all enjoyed the sail, although we had to keep a sharp eye out for the dozens of ships at anchor in the bay outside the entrance to the canal. The trip wasn’t without incidents however. While we were off-shore, I discovered one of the pumps has a problem and will need to be fixed and/or a spare purchased. And, as we started to return back to the anchorage, a coast guard vessel approached us and asked us to stop and prepare for inspection. We had to lower sails and then came to a stop. They explained we should have radioed our position while moving in the busy port. A prudent requirement, which I should have realized they would have in place.
The rest of this week will be very busy completing all the shopping, maintenance work, provisioning, paperwork, and re-organizing the contents of the boat. These upcoming trips are a big deal, so it will be worth these days of hard work and preparation. If all goes well, we will do a final major provisioning run after Karen returns and try to stuff everything on Tahina properly. We then plan to move out to some lovely islands southeast of here called Las Perlas. There are reports of lots of marine life (whales, dolphin, even whale sharks) and idealic conditions at these off-shore islands. The islands also have Internet, so it will be possible to both enjoy the conditions while watching the weather closely for a good weather window to Galapagos.