Our Canal Transit Partners Arrive, and We Avoid Disaster

Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama

In spite of the fact that Dale and Linda Bixler, of El Capitan in Brownsville, Washington, arrived on the 12th of November, we’re still here, watching the notorious Panama rainy season in process. It reminds me of the Ray Bradbury story about the astronauts stranded on a planet where it rains all the time – and they die, one by one, being smothered by rapidly growing plants, while they’re trying to find a sun dome to dry out. We could sure use a sun dome about now. It’s 10:17 in the morning, and it’s been raining hard for two and a half hours.

The week I returned from Seattle, Ole and I spent our time cleaning, arranging, organizing, and getting ready to share the boat. On the 11th, my birthday, we took the free marina bus to downtown Colon to stock up on a few necessities, including a “backup” birthday cake. The traditional Ole-made Norwegian cream cake went horribly wrong this year, but the whipped cream turned out great. I love the effort he made, but the fact that the oven was set at the wrong baking setting (partially my fault) and that the cake pan was overfilled, meant that most of the cake ended up all over the bottom of the oven, and what was left in the pan lacked its usual fluffiness.

Add to that the fact that the bag of vacuum frozen shrimp I bought to make scampi for my birthday dinner, when opened, reeked of ammonia – well, I’ve had better birthdays. But as fellow-boater Russ on Chicana says, any day you get up and watch the grass COMING up instead of GOING up is a good day. So in that regard, it was a good day.

On November 12, Ole got a ride into town with Stanley, a local free-lance agent, who was able to drive Ole around to Abernathy’s, Price Smart, and several other necessary stops on the way to the airport to pick up Dale and Linda. Meanwhile, here on the boat, it rained all day like the end of the world. I finished up the cleaning and organizing, and put on a pot of dinner, so that when they got here we could all just unwind. Also found on YouTube a few videos about folding towel animals, so that they could feel at home on this “cruise.”

We all took the bus into Colon on the 13th to provision for four people for a couple of weeks, in order to get underway for the Chagres River on Saturday. We cheerily paid our bill, cast off the lines, waved goodbye to everyone, and motored jauntily toward the Colon breakwater, where suddenly both engines went dead. Great timing – only 20 or so ships waiting to enter the breakwater, and us dead in the water.

We dropped anchor – and Ole and Dale went below to figure out the problem. It was a bit of a sphincter-tightener to be at anchor only 100 yards or so from the main entrance channel to the Panama Canal – but it could have been worse – we could have been IN the channel. The problem turned out to be air in the fuel system. The port engine started right away, but the starboard engine was stubborn, so we opted to return to our slip in Shelter Bay to solve the problem calmly.

Five hours later, the guys determined that the best solution was to come back at it in the morning – and jump start the brain cells with some martinis and smoked salmon. Seemed to work – the problem was solved by noon Sunday, with both engines starting and growling happily. An afternoon walk through Fort Sherman allowed us to see an agouti (think about a large cross between a guinea pig and a possum), millions of leafcutter ants, and a few Jesus Christ lizards, and a late afternoon cocktail hour up at the marina pool gave us a good view of a capuchin monkey fight.

We may have to forego the Chagres trip, as it’s been raining so much the Corps of Engineers is going to release water from the dam – so maybe today, if sea conditions permit, we’ll head east along the coast a few hours to Linton or Portobello.

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