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Day 635 - Panama City, Panama (N 8° 54.4 W 79° 31.6)
18:26 hrs - February 24th, 2009
Carnaval!

Dream Time's cabin floor is covered in confetti. Colorful little paper circles that we unintentionally brought back from Carnaval last night in our hair and pockets, are sticking to everything. Within minutes of arriving at Carnaval in Panama City yesterday we were sprayed with water pistols, then had handfuls of confetti hurled at us. We instantly contracted Carnaval fever and with dots stuck to our faces, armed ourselves with 25c bags of 'ammunition' and went to seek retribution. It wasn't pretty, after clouds of paper filled the air around us, amongst squeals of delight from Panamanian children, and caught in the crossfire of water jets, we were quickly and soundly defeated. While Catherine, Nick and myself tried to hold our ground, we were, after-all, amateurs and the locals made great sport of us.

One of the most anticipated festivals in Panama, Carnaval lasts for four days and four nights. Streets are filled with music, vendors, dancers, performers, elaborate costumes, confetti and floats. We made our way into the heart of the action, getting ambushed regularly by children along the way who weren't satisfied unless they scored a direct facial hit with fistfuls of confetti. Unlike the parades we're used to, the Macy's Day Parade for example, where spectators and crowds are kept at a safe, orderly and well defined distance from the action, at Carnaval everyone parties together. More than once I was almost clipped on the side of the head by a protruding papier-mâché arm or giant piece of sparkling fruit as the floats trundled past just inches from the crowd. Perched on the top of each float, clinging to a rail with one hand and waving majestically with the other were the Carnaval Queens. Beautiful Goddesses dressed in intricate costumes with towering headdresses and, well, sometimes revealing just a little more than the performers back in New York would allow. Gyrating and wiggling to the music they received a hearty welcome from the male spectators. After a dozen or so of these performances rolled past, Catherine, growing a little exasperated,
demanded to know when the 'sexy man floats' would be arriving.

The floats were fabulous, but the dancers, performers and musicians that followed were a highlight and filled the air with an infectious energy. Lines of dancers moved down the street in waves followed by men hammering drums and shaking rattles. Each group chanted rhythmically in unison, moving, swelling and jumping as though a single force. It was impossible not to dance with them, it was intoxicating.

It was well after midnight by the time we motored back to Dream Time. Exhausted, but far too excited to sleep, we laid in the cabin and whilst picking stubborn pieces of sticky paper circles off our skin, relived the highlights of Carnaval I had recorded on my HD camcorder. What a night!

 
 
 

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Day 633 - Isla Taboga, Panama (N 8° 47.9 W 79° 33.2)
21:12 hrs - February 22nd, 2009
Our First Pacific Island!

With all our deck cleats and docking hardware still attached, I'm thrilled, and more than a little relieved to report, that our transit through the Panama Canal was a complete success! Dream Time, for the first time in her 29 years now sits in Pacific waters.

Our Canal Advisor joined us earlier than expected Friday evening so we had the luxury of traversing the Gatun Locks on our own rather than 'nested' with two other sail boats. With Don and Robert handling our forward lines, and Nick and Catherine the two aft lines, Dream Time rode the turbulent waters with ease. By 21:30 we had cleared all three Gatun locks and were comfortably moored in Gatun Lake, tied-up against a giant rubber buoy (which Catherine spent much of evening perched upon looking very much like an elf on a toadstool). Serenaded by Howler monkeys, we smoked Cuban cigars, had a few glasses of scotch and relaxed on deck to celebrate the successful completion of our first three locks.

By 7:30 Saturday morning we were motoring across Gatun Lake and by 9:00, with 15-20 knots of breeze, had our headsail up and to the delight of Max, our Canal Advisor who spent the majority of the time at Dream Time's helm, were sailing along at just over 6 knots, spotting manatees, parakeets and even a swimming Iguana along the way.

Slightly ahead of schedule, we reached the Pedro Miguel Locks just before 13:00 and by 13:15 were tied-up inside Miraflores Locks beginning our final decent into the Pacific. After dropping-off tires and rented dock lines at Balboa Yacht Club and saying farewell to Don and Robert, Dream Time and her remaining crew, choosing not to anchor off the busy Flamenco Yacht Club by Panama City, sailed seven miles, weaving through dozens of anchored cargo vessels waiting to transit the canal, over to Isla Taboga, "Island of Flowers" - a small, 1,000' high wild life refuge just SSW of the canal entrance.

We're anchored in a small cove on the NE side of the island, colorful buildings in pastel greens, oranges, teals and blues are clustered together at the base of a steep hillside covered in lush vegetation. Las Flores is the only village on the island and has a population of around 1,000. But the town is buzzing with activity. Loud music can be heard clear across the harbor as Panamanians all around the country celebrate 'Carnaval' - four days of music, dancing, elaborate costumes and water fights. We'll join in the festivities soon enough, but for now we're content relaxing on Dream Time celebrating the arrival at our first Pacific Island.


AND THE WINNER IS...



Click the image to enlarge. Other entries will be posted shortly.



Firstly, thank you to everyone for submitting your entries, we received some incredible photos!

It was close, but with an official time of 13:27:00, just 3 minutes
and 11 seconds ahead of the second entry, the
winner of our 'Capture Dream Time in the Miraflores Lock' competition is
Arthur G. Beckenhaupt (USNR -TAR)!
Congratulations Arthur,
your Dream Time book is on the way!

 






 

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Day 631 - Colon, Panama (N 9° 22.1 W 79° 57.0)
14:29 hrs - February 20th, 2009
It's Our Turn

Still in Pacific countdown mode, and with most of the provisioning done, I now have a little time on my hands to settle uncomfortably into yikes mode.  Well its not yikes exactly more like an anxious anticipation.  It feels just like it did when we were getting ready to leave the comfort of US waters for the first time, my first leap into the sailing unknown.  But we have been in the Caribbean for a year now and it feels like home, and the prospect of a new ocean with an entirely different set of conditions is making me nervous.

The Caribbean has been this perfect collection of beautiful islands and ports where nothing is very far from anywhere else, and there is always the comfortable knowledge that land and people and a safe anchorage is never more than a few days away.  The Pacific will be different.  We will be sailing further than we have ever sailed together before.  To the Galapagos, our first leg is almost 1,000 nautical miles, then another 3,000 to the Marquesas.  It’s all a bit too big to think about, so for now I’ve been concentrating on Pacific provisioning and on jamming large provisions into small lockers, and of course eating ice cream to distract myself.

Having said all of that I know the Pacific and its many treasures will wash away all my fears and will surpass all my expectations, and before I know it we will be swooshing along to Australia with fair winds and calm seas, however for now, I am going to concentrate on the ice cream.

Day 631 - Colon, Panama (N 9° 22.1 W 79° 57.0)
14:29 hrs - February 20th, 2009
It's Our Turn

I've just loaded the charts for the South Pacific into our GPS chartplotter! Destinations that once only existed in adventure novels - distant islands discovered by adventurous mariners, now seem vaguely familiar to me. The names of these Pacific islands I can barely pronounce; Hiva Oa, Aitutaki, Tongareva, Pukapuka, Fakatopatere, but they are on our horizon. Well, they will be, at least after we transit through the canal.

Dream Time is now fully equipped and ready for her 50 mile passage over to the Pacific. Ten reassuringly chunky car tires wrapped in plastic bags are hanging over our rub rail, our lines are ready, chafe guards installed to protect our newly varnished caprail and we've even had a few meetings with the other sailboat we'll be rafted-up to in the canal - going over the final details of our transit together. We're ready!

Dream Time's line-handling crew consists of an impressive international team of a hardy mountain climber and outdoor adventurer from Northern Idaho, a deep-sea professional scuba diver from Nova Scotia who works on offshore oil rigs in the North Sea and a barrel chested Australian.

In less than three hours we'll be casting-off our lines and making our way into Colon harbor where we'll meet our Advisor, then it'll be just a short motor over to the first lock. It's blowing 30 knots in the harbor right now, white cap waves are churning-up the water in the strong wind - it should make for an interesting raft-up experience. We'll let you know how it goes!

To watch Dream Time transit through the Panama Canal on a live
web cam, click the links below around the following times:

          Gatun Lock (Caribbean side):  Feb 20th 8:00 pm (give or take an hour)
          Mirafloras Lock (Pacific Side):   Feb 21st, 2:00 pm (give or take an hour)



WIN A PRIZE!
And for the individual who first emails us a web cam JPG image of Dream Time transiting through the Mirafloras Lock on February 21st, 2009 will receive a free copy of the book Dream Time signed by the author!

(Absolutely no rules or restrictions apply, that is unless the winner lives in Iceland then we may request they assist with the shipping charges). The winner's name (and picture if they send one) will be posted on our web site.

 





 

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Day 626 - Colon, Panama (N 9° 22.1 W 79° 57.0)
15:52 hrs - February 15th, 2009
Transiting the Panama Canal - a Practice Run

After six locks, 160 million gallons of water, three callouses, one broken cleat, a little chaffing, and a brief moment of panic, we made it through the Panama Canal - an idea first conceived in 1534 by a catholic priest who noted: "There are mountains but there are also hands, and for the king of Spain few things are impossible." It took over three centuries for the vision to be realized but development finally began in 1880. After financial ruin in 1889, the loss of over 20,000 lives during its construction, the Panama Canal finally opened on August 15th, 1914 and has operated flawlessly, 24/7, ever since.

Practice makes perfect, or so the saying goes, and while we're far from being experts, our trial-transit through the canal Friday and Saturday on a friends boat has certainly made us feel better equipped to make the journey on Dream Time next Friday.

We set off from Shelter Bay Marina at 16:00 in Pedoja, Don's 44' catamaran, and headed out to The Flats, an anchorage area in the Colon harbor, to await the arrival of our Panama Canal Advisor. Ricaurte McLean (Ricky) arrived around 18:00 and after an hour of motoring slowly around in circles, just to kill some time, we made our way slowly toward Gatun Locks with Salsa and Happy Ours - the two sail boats we rafted-up with. As Pedoja was the larger of the three vessels we had the center position, Salsa was rafted to our port and Happy Ours to our starboard. With rafting lines secured just outside the lock entrance Don motored us slowly together into the lock, occasionally asking the other captains to, "give a little throttle mate" when requiring more control.

Line handlers on the lock wall expertly hurled thin lines over 40' feet to each corner of our raft-up. Our four dock lines were then hauled up to the top of the lock walls and secured to giant bollards. Watching the enormous gates close behind us on the first lock was a little intimidating. You see, everything about the locks was designed and built for towering container ships weighing 50,000 tons, so our small fiberglass pleasure crafts felt like insignificant, vulnerable little toys bobbing around in a place they had no right to bob in. Still, we held our own, or more precisely, the four precious dock lines that were preventing us from behind slammed and grated into a messy pulp against the jagged lock walls. The lines stretched, creaked and groaned under the turbulent water as over 26 million gallons quickly flooded our chamber. With the line wrapped a few turns around the cockpit winch, all that was really required was to take in a little slack as we rose 30'. Our transit through the first lock was uneventful, but the next lock was a slightly different experience.

With the dock lines secured and line handlers at the ready, water started to fill the second lock in much the same way as the first. But for some inexplicable reason, after a few minutes the water became more turbulent and violent than previously experienced. Lines were pulled to the breaking point and tightened around deck cleats with enormous pressure. Then suddenly, with a loud 'CRACK' and 'PING', Happy Ours stern cleat disintegrated. The top part of the cleat was fired across the lock like a projectile. Thankfully no one was in the way of the cleat or the released line that whipped across their stern deck. Now with only three secure lines, our flotation began spinning to port inside the narrow lock. After hearing what sounded like a gunshot, Salsa's crew, the sailboat rafted on our port side, realized what had happened and sprang into action. After a few frantic seconds of activity, the crew we're holding cushions and fenders over the side of their boat in a desperate attempt to prevent a direct collision with the wall. With Salsa just feet away from impact, Happy Our, with full forward throttle to help straighten the raft-up, and with the dockline rigged directly over the shattered cleat to the cockpit winch, began slowly, foot by foot, correcting the spin, much to the relief of Salsa's captain. We're still not entirely sure what went wrong, I suspect a combination of a weak deck cleat and too much pressure on the line. Or perhaps the fact that we were transiting the canal on Friday 13th and happened to be in lock number "13" may just have something to do with it.

The rest of the canal transit was uneventful. We tied-up to a giant rubber mooring buoy in Gatun lake around midnight and after a few glasses of wine collapsed into our bunks. Our advisor arrived by 7:00 am Saturday morning and after a peaceful and rather pleasant 3-hour motor across the picturesque Gatun lake, arrived at the Pedro Miguel Locks - the first of three that dropped
us gently down into the Pacific.

In less than five days it will be Dream Time's turn - her first time in the Pacific. Catherine and I plan to stay in Panama City for only a few days before sailing out to the Perlas Islands, then after perhaps a week or two and with the right weather window, we'll begin our long passage west, across the Pacific. First stop, Isla Encantadas (Bewitched Islands) - the Galapagos!

To watch Dream Time transit through the Panama Canal on a live
web cam, click the links below around the following times:

             Gatun Lock (Caribbean side):  Feb 20th 8:00 pm (give or take an hour)
             Mirafloras Lock (Pacific Side):   Feb 21st, 2:00 pm (give or take an hour)



WIN A PRIZE!
And for the individual who first emails us a web cam JPG image of Dream Time transiting through the Mirafloras Lock on February 21st, 2009 will receive a free copy of the book Dream Time signed by the author!

(Absolutely no rules or restrictions apply, that is unless the winner lives in Iceland then we may request they assist with the shipping charges). The winner's name (and picture if they send one) will be posted on our web site.





 

Have a question or comment?
Click here to send an email



 
Day 622 - Colon, Panama (N 9° 22.1 W 79° 57.0)
17:19 hrs - February 11th, 2009
Countdown to Canal Transit

Well this is it….. February 20th is our date for transiting the Panama Canal. A canal official (Admeasurer) came to the boat with lots of questions, paperwork and a long tape measure to asses the boat and gave us the once over before declaring us canal worthy, happily we passed inspection and were given our official ‘Ship Identification Number’ and the transit date was set.
 
The Panama Canal is long, large and more than a little intimidating for the uninitiated so to avoid any first time jitters anywhere near the canals unforgiving 100ft concrete walls, we are going for a little practice run on a friends boat first. Vessels our size are required to have four “experienced and capable crew” to handle the lines going through the canal so most boats need extra people, and we are going to help out on a friends boat tomorrow.  It normally takes about 24 hours to go from one side to the other.  You transit the first three locks in the late afternoon of one day, anchor in the lake for the night, and then after negotiating the three remaining locks, you pop out into the Pacific by the end of the next day. Easy peasy right? I really hope so, It’ll be our boat next week!

Now that we have completed most of the boat projects that we came here to do the next fun challenge on my list is provisioning the boat for the next 6 months. There won’t be many food shopping opportunities in the Pacific, probably not till we get to Tahiti in June or July, so I’m busy making lists of what I think we’re going to eat and use for the next 6 months, then all I have to do is figure out where I can put it all!  We’ll need all the basics like rice, pasta, oatmeal.  Dried fruit, milk, eggs etc.  Canned anything, like fruit & vegetables, fish & meat, even Spam made the list! (apparently its fashionable again) and of course the essential m&m’s, then all we have to think about is our en route provisioning, and that we leave in the capable hands of Neptune, and the fishing gods.

Sadly there’ll be no room for non-essentials (yes, actually m&m’s are essential!) and there’s going to be no room for ice cream, so I’ve decided to find a way to eat ice cream every day till we leave, it seems like the only sensible thing to do.

Pacific here we come!



     

 

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Day 615 - Colon, Panama (N 9° 22.1 W 79° 57.0)
15:52 hrs - February 4th, 2009
Lights. Camera. ACTION!

One moment we're in Panama, scraping off old varnish and applying gallons of antifouling paint to our hull, wearing flip flops and shorts in 90 degree weather, living the life of typical cruisers. The next we find ourselves in New York, wearing borrowed clothes from sympathetic friends and being interviewed in the ABC Studios in Times Square by Heidi Jones on Good Morning America NOW.

The last five days have been quite a shock to the system. As if the 70 degree shift in temperature and four inches of fresh snow weren't enough, we found that navigating the busy streets of New York, surrounded by thousands of people running in every direction, and the hustle of a New York television studio to all be, well, a little overwhelming, especially after spending the last six weeks in relative isolation. But with a little makeup (for both of us), the right lighting and the gentle encouragement from a professional television news reporter, we at least weathered the television experience comfortably.

It all began when Matthew Drake, the Producer for Good Morning America NOW, stumbled across our web site and thought our rather unique sailing / running a business from a boat whilst circumnavigating the world story, would make good television, well seven minutes of good television. So at 9:30 Monday morning Catherine and I were being escorted into ABC's "Green Room" and being briefed about the tone of our interview. After a few minutes in hair and make-up, a meeting with the sound guys who attached microphones, and a brief introduction to Heidi, we heard the, "And five, four, three..." countdown and quickly, and rather unexpectedly, our interview began. As it wasn't a live broadcast we thought any gaffs or hick-ups would be re-recorded with a loud "CUT, OK, let's do that again people..." but the cameras kept rolling so we kept talking and, after what seemed like just a few seconds, we were done.

I believe we managed to communicate our experience relatively successfully. Well, at least enough to have cameraman #2 come over after the interview and explain how our story had inspired him to follow his dream to tour around on his motorcycle for a while. But you be the judge, click here to view the interview (it appears after the advertisement).

The experience was truly wonderful and we'd like to thank everyone at ABC for having us on the show and a special thank you to my good friend Brad Wall for helping make it all happen. (And, if you ever
have a seven-second window you need to fill again, have your people call our people!)

 

We'd also like to welcome aboard our new Sponsors: Lumix® Digital Cameras and Teak Decking Systems. Click here to learn more about their incredible line of products and services, and to see
how they're contributing to Dream Time's adventure.