It was a great feeling to relaunch Joy on 16th March, a little nerve wracking as we had serviced all the sea cocks which meant taking them all apart so we were anxious to make sure nothing was leaking when she ‘splashed’. A guy on a neighbouring boat came over to congratulate us on all our hard work, saying he just didn’t know how we had done it. Our long, long days hadn’t gone unnoticed, we often carried on working until gone midnight before showering and cooking, eating our dinner at 2am! We must have kept other boat owners awake some nights still drilling and hammering under torch light.
We were more concerned about getting out of the haul out bay and back at anchor, but our new alternator had other ideas. Good job we were the last launch on a Friday, as the alternator guy had to take it back to his workshop to make some adjustments. Finally off the dock late the next day and out at anchor, we settled in for peaceful night back in the water. Until just before midnight when a Venezuelan fishing boat anchored nearby hit us bow first. The new moon had stirred up some strong currents and pushed them into us. A few young Venezuelan lads (these boats have about a dozen men on them) then jumped onto the bow to fender them off as their boat kept coming back for another go, one stupidly put himself in between the two boats and almost got crushed, luckily the only damage was a bent stanchion and scrape to the teak cap rail. Neither boat could move as mother nature had wrapped our anchor chain and warps together, so we put out plenty of fenders and went to bed with our fingers crossed. It was the following afternoon when we finally managed to get our anchor up and move away.
We ambitiously thought it would take just a few days to get the inside of the boat back together and finish off, but it took three more weeks to get to a point where we could actually go to sea. Every other day brought more altercations with Venezuelans anchoring too close and had several more near misses. Anywhere else this wouldn’t have been a problem, but Chaguaramas is a ‘special’ place with strange currents, lots of boat wake from pilot boats and commercial traffic. We have never been in an anchorage where you need fenders out all the time.
Motoring out of Chaguaramas our GPS and instruments starting playing up, so once we were out of the channel and into open sea we set our sails and powered down all equipment and I sailed for a couple of hours with just the wind vane and compass for company while Jez stripped out another cupboard, chased some wires and fixed the dodgy connection. As the sun set on our first voyage in a few months, we reflected on all the hard work but whilst we were glad that we had chosen Peake’s yard in Trinidad we were very pleased to see the island disappear into the night.
It took just 8 days to sail to Panama, one of the best and most memorable sails we have had since we left England 5 years ago. A steady 20 knots with no squalls or strong gusts so we were able to fly our large reaching sail 24/7. After three days of nothing on the end of the fishing line but occasional weed, the reel finally screamed and a huge mahi mahi took a 6ft leap out of the water in a bid to get rid of the hook and plastic squid he had just taken a bite of. It took both of us to reel him in especially we were doing 8 knots and I can’t douse the reaching sail on my own so couldn’t slow the boat down safely, thankfully the rod and reel held up and my trusty gaff hook brought him on board. Thirty-two portions of fish added to the freezer, that will make a nice change from chicken, chicken, or..chicken. The highlight of the passage had to be the dolphins and their fantastic displays, they stayed with us for hours and as the sun went down their acrobatic displays began.
The rod was retired for 24 hours until Jez realised that we could squeeze a little more in our small freezer with a bit more organisation. Two more smaller fish took the bait the freezer was bulging at the seams.
After checking in with the officials in Panama I called the Canal office to check they had received our transit request which I emailed before we left Trinidad. They speak very good English and indeed they had my request, I was to call the Admeasurer early the next morning to be told when we would measured. So we sailed straight to Shelter Bay marina that afternoon and were measured as promised the next morning. He also completed all the paperwork and now we were ready to book our transit once we had visited the bank and paid the fees. It was a bit disappointing after rushing around and paying the fees to find out the earliest date they could give us to transit was the 6th May, a wait of 18 days. But it has given us some time to get things prepared, so we headed back to anchor at Portobelo where Jez’s parents joined us as crew so they will be line-handling for us as well as a couple of very kind volunteers.
Back in Shelter Bay we discovered that they had changed our transit time from 4pm to 4am, so it has been a rush today to get everything ready as we were expecting most of Sunday to prepare. So we will be transiting the canal in one day tomorrow instead of overnighting in Gatun Lake.
Next stop Panama City and into the Pacific!