Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Panama City and Flamigo Island Anchorage

March 28, 2009
Flamingo Island anchorage
coordinates 08 54.606N,079 31.474W

We let you know what an experience transiting the Panama Canal was but we wanted to give you a bit more insight into the great bits of info our advisors had passed on to us. There are approximately 80 advisors that ride along with each vessel as they transit. If your vessel is over 65 feet long you need to carry an actual pilot captain. These men that join the smaller boats all have primary jobs, most of them within the canal system and do this "advising" on their off days. The ones we spoke with actually prefer this to their real jobs. It's a great chance for them to meet new people, break away from their usual work and make some extra cash. We were blessed with two great characters. And right of the bat we learned of just how great the Panamanian Foreign exchange program is. At age 13, many children of Panama get the opportunity to study for 3 months abroad in the United States. It was obviously a great start and opportunity for our guides as their English was spectacular, their knowledge of world politics, etc. as good if not better than our own. They gave us many insights on life in Panama and the city. One of our advisors primary jobs was supervisor of the security forces that patrol the waters on the Pacific side of the canal entrance. A few of his men passed us many times that day in their patrol boats and we were able to benefit from his position with the free delivery of buckets of ice right to our boat while under way. Nice treat in the heat!

The canal which was built under President Roosevelt was given back to the people of Panama December 31, 1999. From what we gather, when it was run by the US Military, it was run as a government institution not necessarily as a business and at the end of each fiscal year, they would plug whatever funds were left over back into the canal. Each department needed to find ways to put that money back into the canal, new paint or carpet for the buildings, etc. The military that oversaw the running and protection of the canal lived and stayed in the area, bringing peace, security and money back into the communities. There have been pros and cons they say to the US pulling out. That security and peace has definitely diminished especially in the outer areas such as Colon, the poor Cinderella step child to the greater Panama City. The money is no longer being put back into those communities as well. But while being run as a company, the Canal has managed to increase the amount of ships that transit, and therefore increase their net profit to the tune of $800 million last year. How that money get's put back into the country we are not sure.

They are busily expanding the canals with an additional mega lock at both the Pacific and Caribbean end, as well to accommodate the PanMax ships. Displays in the visitors center show how the new water pumping systems will be even more efficient. We hear that increases in the transit fees will help to pay for that expansion. Our transit fees ran us around $650, including using the assistance of Tito. The cheapest transit fee ever paid was 37 cents by an English man I believe who swam the entire canal. The most expensive fee paid these days is $250,000 for the larger container ships 250,000, the average freighter pays $180,000.

Just outside the Panama Canal on the Pacific side you have two immediate options for places to keep the boat. The Balboa Yacht club offers moorings for a fee or you can anchor for free in the protection of the Flamingo Island with 50 other like minded sailors. A few of them have been there for quite a while and they know their way around the place. The radio net in the morning will cover all you needs. If you can get your hands on one of the maps they provide you will surely find everything you need. Again the anchorage was comfortable enough despite day trip boats that parade past you daily, we were anchored in 20 feet of thick gooey mud. Again as in Colon, a dirty anchorage as the pollution level of Panama City declines with the continuous burning of something we know not what. We simply know the boats are consistently covered in ash, morning, noon and night. Across the bay Panama City shows an impressive skyline and malls to rival any major US town.

Ashore we were easily able to get our provisioning done with taxis that are always at the ready for you. Directly behind the Playita Marina Yacht club there is a Natural Reserve park of sorts that is home to a family of 3 toed sloths. We spent the week completing a few boat projects such as a new antenna for our radio that Bruce placed atop the mast, replacing spark plugs in the outboard, replacing belts on the engine. We treated ourselves to the tasty tamales that the locals sell outside each store. There is nothing as good as local flavor. We took a quick trip back to the Miraflores Locks to view them from the observation deck on land and cheered the Kelly's and crew on as they passed through the locks themselves. The boys were able to spend to spend some last great days playing with their pals, Alice, Will and Edward from s/v Vagabond Heart. They along with a dozen or more vessels are preparing for the own Pacific Ocean crossing where they are starting to head back toward their homelands of Australia and New Zealand. We had been traveling with quite a large batch of them through the canal and it was time to bid them farewell and send them on their way, as we head closer to home as well.

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