On the 19th and 20th, Spectacle transited the Panama Canal.Â Given the current ridiculous delays for sailboats, we were pleasantly surprised that our agent Roberto Solano was able to get us an appointment with “only” a 12-day wait and that we managed not to get “bumped” or otherwise stymied.
Among the requirements of the transit is the presence of linehandlers.Â Each boat needs the captain plus four other people. This left us two people short, so we enlisted the assistance of two of our fellow Shelter Bay detainees, Ian (a Toronto-based English ex-pat) and Margaret (from Southern California).
Each boat crossing the canal is required to employ an “adviser” who assists with the transit (but, presumably as some sort of liability limitation device, makes only “suggestions” instead of issuing commands).
We were told to be in the “flats” anchorage by the Canal entrance no later than 4:00 p.m. on the 19th to pick up our advisor (who would be brought to us via motor launch), so we departed Shelter Bay at three and got over there in plenty of time.Â The arrival time of the advisors is notoriously variable (read as: they are supposed to get there at 5:00 but sometimes don’t make it until 9:00), so we figured we’d drop the anchor.
We just could not get the darn thing to hold.Â We have some (uninteresting) ideas as to why this may be, but, suffice it to say, we tried to anchor four times with no success.Â In fairness to us, the holding in the flats is notoriously bad and the winds were quite high, but it was pretty ridiculous.Â Indeed, we made a bit of a spectacle of ourselves, continually driving around in circles and setting then retrieving anchors before returning to further circle-driving.Â Not the most auspicious of beginnings.
Around 5:45, we were alerted by the Canal authorities that our advisor was on his way, and within 15 minutes we had him aboard.Â His name was Meza, and it became clear right away that he was going to be great â€“ totally friendly, informal, helpful without being bossy.Â He informed us we would be the middle boat of a three-boat raft, which is a bit of a mixed blessing.Â Although the captain of the middle boat has the added (significant) responsibility of driving the raft, the good news is that (a) if he drives the raft into a wall (or someone else makes a mistake), the damage is going to be to one of the other boats and (b) the middle boat’s linehandlers have very little work to do.Â On balance, being in the middle is pretty good.
We motored toward the Canal entrance and began the process of rafting up with the other boats.Â This was also the beginning of our concerns. Â Suffice it to say, it is not often that we are the only people who know what they are doing (in fact, when it comes to boat-related things, usually quite the other thing), but the Canal crossing was one of those times.Â The two other boats with which we were rafted were a bunch of humorless, unpleasant and borderline incompetent Germans to our right and preposterously Wile E. Coyote-esque incompetent-bordering-on-ridiculous French/Dutch to our left.
We stopped Spectacle to allow the left boat to raft up.Â They blasted up to us at about four knots and nearly ripped all of our fenders/stanchions off through sheer velocity before deciding to try it again.Â Fantastic start, guys.