Sheltering from Otto in Shelter Bay, Panama

We had a great sail from Puerto Lindo with only one brief shower, approaching Colon and the entrance into the breakwater there were around  30 commercial vessels anchored, presumably waiting to transit the canal.  Night fell as we tacked in between tankers and cargo ships and entered the breakwater making our way to ‘The Flats’ small craft anchorage close to the first set of locks.  This is where yachts anchor before their transit, it is early in the season and only one catamaran was there,  we were staying just one night before heading in to the marina. It is a gloomy place to be especially in the rain, the wash created by the pilot boats rushing to and fro was a small annoyance but when we came to lift our anchor we discovered the biggest annoyance – thick red mud caked on to the anchor chain, all 75 metres of it (it’s a deep anchorage). So in the pouring rain it took about an hour to clean every link as it went back into the chain locker, three quarters of the way through the deck wash pump blew a hissy fit and we had to resort to the painfully slow scrubbing brush and bucket of water method. Oh I do love boating.  We entered the marina soaked to the skin and plastered in mud.


Our planned one week in Shelter Bay Marina is moving into yet another week but only due to weather.  We have fitted our new anchor chain and batteries, and the engine now sits on sparkly new engine mounts which hopefully will resolve the vibration issue.  We also have a wiring problem which we think have traced to a diode on our split charger from the alternator so this is our next head scratching problem to resolve and trace parts.


Old and new engine mount

The weather has rather hindered us with torrential rain on and off all week, but with most jobs done we managed to catch the free bus from Shelter Bay yesterday to a large shopping centre near Colon so that we could get some provisions and a few essentials from the chandlery.  The marina is quite a way off the beaten track (and no longer has a chandlery), the bus has to cross the Panama Canal just by the first set of locks to get to Colon, it was a long wait at the locks in the rather full bus, before driving over the gates on both sides which was a strange experience. On the way back the roll-on roll-off ferry was back working and sped the journey up somewhat, there is a huge new bridge under construction close by which will improve transport links further.  The deteriorating weather has accumulated into the development of Tropical Storm Otto just above us – at 10.4N it is well below the hurricane belt of 12N and horribly close to us at 9.2N – and overnight battered us with 35 knots of wind side on.  Being ketch rigged and high sided our windage is rather great and we pushed our fenders to the max, heeled over and pinned on to the floating dock.  Late evening we decided to add some extra lines on the other side of the dock as the mooring beside us is empty, two out of three lines brought back to winches so that we could pull our 37 ton steel floating home away from the pontoon just enough to give the fenders and paint work a break. We used to do this in Dover Marina and it worked really well.  This made a slightly more comfortable night although our battering continued, sleep disturbed by screaming wind, flapping canvas and slapping halyards from boats around us. Then a loud bang, a shine around with the torch in the dark and driving rain didn’t reveal the dock cleat pulled completely out and into the water with our line attached, discovered instead at first light. We added more hefty ropes, tied this time to the concrete bollard that the pontoon is attached to, reluctant to trust the remaining cleats entirely.

Power lines and trees are down, infact around 40 trees on the road between Colon and Shelter Bay and this will take a while to clear so we are in effect cut off.  The marina has been running its generator to power electricity in the communal lounge, fuelled by several kind people in the boating community here who have offered up their own diesel supplies. We have obtained weather info via email using our Iridium Pilot satellite with a combination of grib files and the National Hurricane Centre updates from my Mum.  Panama has this afternoon issued a tropical storm warning from Colon to the coast of Costa Rica. The marina has warned us to expect south west winds of 40mph gusting to 63mph in the early hours of Wednesday as Otto makes its transformation into a hurricane and starts heading west towards the coast of Costa Rica.  As waves crash over the huge Colon breakwater,   there is now definitely no escape from Shelter Bay.

So we have prepared as best we can, canvas covers are down and the bimini frame tied back.  We can do no more but sit it out and hope for little damage to Joy and of course all the other boats in Shelter Bay….as I write this I have just been informed Otto is now a Category 1 Hurricane, 81 miles north of Shelter Bay.  Good luck and god bless to all in its path.


The one time it wasn’t raining I caught this bird checking himself out on a neighbouring boat using the stainless bow roller as a mirror!  The marina is right by the San Lorenzo Park, a protected area home to howler monkeys (who we can hear from the boat), sloths and numerous beautiful birds, hopefully when the storm has passed we will get a chance to explore before we leave.


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