Saturday, December 14, 2013

Colón/Cristobal - Arriving in Panama

[Kyle]As we approached Colón on the last night I was filled with a mix of feelings. We had been deliberately trying to get here for a long time, so I was excited to see the distance remaining shrink and shrink. On the other hand, I knew the nice, easy passage was almost over and it was about to get really busy for us once we landed.

Colón first manifested itself as lights appearing on a dark horizon beneath flashes of lightning from storms over the warm land. The lights turned out not to be from land, but from the many ships converging toward the city. Land itself arrived at twilight as a thin line outlining the rugged mountains through the veil of showers.

Once Maryanne was no longer sleeping, I switched the VHF radio from channel 16 to the channel used by Cristobal Signal for port operations. Wow! Listening to Cristobal Signal is like listening to New York Air Traffic Control on a busy, stormy day. The guy on the radio was directing the movement of nearly one hundred different vessels; He gave anchor instructions, sequenced traffic, coordinated locking times and gave instructions for picking up and dropping off Harbor Pilots. Enormous ships were everywhere, manoeuvring gingerly through the crowded anchorages as they waited their turn at the breakwater. The place absolutely crackled with a sense of important industry being undertaken in every corner. There was no question about it; this was the Big Show and we were a small part in it.

Suddenly there are boats EVERYWHERE... and they are all much bigger than us! Eventually we are safely and officially in Panama

We called in with our position, ETA at the breakwater, and destination and were given permission to proceed. We entered the port like a mouse on the floor of a redwood forest. I thought I would be more anxious, but I surprised myself by enjoying it way more than I expected, as if I were a kid that was suddenly given a chance to go backstage and meet Superman.

We followed the west breakwater past all of the ships in the inner anchorage to a gap in the mangroves at the far end. Beyond laid Shelter Bay Marina, where Begonia will be hauled out until February. I hadn’t known this when I made our initial plans for haulout, but Panama turns out to have only one game in town for doing work on small boats and Shelter Bay is it and they are priced accordingly. The marina is beautiful and the staff is very friendly, but the place makes me feel like I’m in a cab watching the meter rapidly approach what I have in my pocket.

We went to the various offices to coordinate the work for the next few days. For now, we’re going to take a break and treat ourselves to a meal out and a couple of local coldies.

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