Monday, January 28, 2008

Navy Seals, Blue Water Rally, and leaving for Bocas del Toro

A team of Navy seals are here doing jungle training.  That is the only connection to US military that abandoned Fort Sherman serves these days as far as we can tell.  I saw a couple of the seals running on the old fort air strip runway late this afternoon.  Guess the physical activity of jungle training all day was not enough physical exercise for these guys.  These guys are in unbelievably fantastic physical condition.  Later this evening they will probably be in the marina bar as they have been a few other nights this week, but we will not be going in there to visit with them.

The owner of this marina visited the site yesterday and Bill talked with him.  Bill had met Carlos when he visited Cartagena when we were there last October.  After Bill’s conversion with the owner, the marina manager decided that he will not kick us out on Thursday morning after all.  The marina manager agreed to allow us to stay in this slip until we are forced out when the final Blue Water Rally boat arrives – whenever that turns out to be.  He said we might even be allowed to stay until Monday morning.  This is good news because our laptop should be ready for us to pick up this Friday.  Toshiba is replacing the mainboard, which had to be ordered and is supposed to arrive on Thursday.  Lucky us.  Now everything in that computer will be new except the screen and the keyboard.  Not bad for a computer for which the warranty expires on Jan 28th.

Now a small lesson on the Panama Canal.

As I have mentioned in earlier postings, the large ships that transit the canal completely fill the width of the canal, leaving only about 6-inches clearance on either side of the ship to the canal walls.  A ship this size is called a Pana-Max.  A Pana-Max is a container ship built to maximum size to pass through the canal. They are close to 900 feet long and 105 feet wide with 40 foot containers stacked up to six high on the deck.  Most of the ones we have seen have had containers stacked four high covering the total deck space.  That is a lot of containers!    When the US controlled the Panama Canal, a ship paid transit fees simply based on the size of the ship.  One of the first changes implemented by the Chinese when they started managing the canal for Panama (after former President Jimmy Carter literally gave away the canal) was to start charging fees not only for the ship itself but also for cargo.  There is an additional fee for each container on each ship that transits the canal now.  A typical Pana-Max loaded four containers high on deck will pay about $285,000 to transit the canal.  Sounds expensive until you calculate the alternative of sailing down around the tip of South America, at least 7,000 miles.

Instead of line-handlers such as are used onboard yachts such as ours, large commercial vessels have the services of a “mule” each side fore and aft, which keeps the ship positioned safely in the lock while it fills or empties.  A mule is a small locomotive on train tracks alongside each side of the canal and down the meridian between the 2 channels of the canal.  It is a misconception that the mules act as tugs (as described on our recent photos)  – ships and yachts are always controlled by their own engines.  This is why we absolutely do not want to be positioned behind a large ship when we transit the canal.  The prop wash tosses small yachts like ours about like a wine cork in a flushed toilet.

This rainy season (May through November) is what fills Gatun Lake, which forms the water highway across the country to the Pacific side. Each time a ship transits the canal (14,000 per year), 53 million gallons of fresh water is drained from this lake. Gatun Lake is also a reservoir to allow operation of the canal in the dry season. When it was built in the early 1900s it was the largest man-made lake and earth dam in the world.  The locks on the Caribbean/Atlantic side are called the Gatun locks; then a ship enters Gatun Lake; then into the Miraflores locks which exit into the Pacific Ocean.  A large ship completes the transit in one day, but small boats like ours normally must spend the night anchored in Gatun Lake and complete the canal transit on the second day.  It is my understanding that small boats transiting from the Pacific side usually do not spend the night in Gatun Lake.

Here is a bar-bet tidbit.  Which end of the Panama Canal is farthest west?  The Pacific side or the Atlantic side?  Bet most of you got it wrong and said Pacific.  Nope, the Atlantic side is farther west.  The canal basically runs north/south but with a slight tilt with the northernmost (Atlantic) entry/exit being farther west and the southernmost (Pacific) entry/exit being farther east.

Chagres River is near Shelter Bay Marina, on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. The Chagres River is a beautiful tropical river where many different types of wildlife can be found including: crocodiles, pigs, deer, species of monkeys, and all types of wild birds. This natural park is one of the few untouched and pristine areas. This is where the US Forces train for jungle warfare. In addition, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute maintains an active research presence here. 

The entrance to Rio Chagres is tricky with reefs and shoals, and sits under Fort San Lorenzo, which history dates back to the 1600s. Small yachts like ours can go up the Rio Chagres all the way to the dam which creates Gatun Lake.  The river was dammed in 1910 to create Gatun Lake which forms part of the Panama Canal. This lake is why ships need to lock upwards 86 feet to cross the continent. There is a hydro electric power station at the dam, which provides power to nearby Gatun Locks.

BTW, the only thing that transits the Panama Canal free of charge are crocodiles.  Crocs are sometimes seen in the locks and are often seen in Gatun Lake.  Some cruisers like to swim in Gatun Lake while anchored awaiting their next leg of the canal transit.  No way we will be doing that.

One last thing on this subject:  why in the world did Jimmy Carter give away the Panama Canal?  The USA had a treaty to control the canal in perpetuity; the USA owned the land covering 7 miles on either side of the canal;  the USA built the darn thing in the first place; operating the canal was not costing the USA anything; this canal is very high priority if military ships or US goods need to be moved expeditiously from Atlantic to Pacific or vice versa.  So why in the world did Jimmy Carter give it away?  Has to be the dumbest thing he did during his presidency.

January 26, 2008  Saturday

Yesterday we took the express bus to Panama City.  Only hitch was that this time the bus took a slightly different route because the police had a main road closed.  As we were driving around I recognized some of the buildings and knew we were already past where we needed to go.  So we asked the bus driver to stop and let us off.  We walked a few blocks and found a taxi.  The taxi driver did not know where we needed to go, so Bill called the Toshiba Warranty Center and handed the driver the cell phone.  Problem solved.  Fifteen minutes later we were at the computer repair shop.  The computer wasn’t quite ready, so we got back into the same taxi and went to Tropigas on Tumba Muerte.

Without going into all the boring details, our 20-pound aluminum propane tank was damaged when the marina sent it out to be refilled a couple of weeks ago.  The refill place broke the valve and could not replace the valve.  We could not find a replacement tank, but the marina manager said that we could buy a 20-pound aluminum propane tank at this location of Tropigas. 

Wrong!!! Again.  Only thing available to purchase was a 20-pound steel propane tank, which will be rusted out in no time.  But we bought it anyway because we need cooking gas. Tropigas does sell 25-pound aluminum tanks, but those were too tall to fit into our gas locker.

 This morning Stuart on IMAGINE helped Bill replace the valve on our damaged original aluminum tank.  Do not know why that shop could not get this job done.  So we sold the full steel propane tank to another cruiser who will be heading off toward Australia next week.  We could not keep it because the sealed vented propane locker in our boat will only hold one 20-pound tank and one 10-pound tank.  Cannot manage to get two 20-pound tanks into that locker.   What a shame.  It would be nice to be able to carry that much cooking gas so we could go longer between refills.

Thirty boats from the Blue Water Round-the-World Rally are now in Shelter Bay Marina.  Marina management told us to leave here early Thursday morning, but Bill talked with the owner of the marina and got us a reprieve,  Really glad that we did not have to leave here and go anchor in The Flats.  Fifteen of the rally boats will be transiting the canal tomorrow afternoon, and the remaining fifteen will transit the canal on Tuesday.  This rally moves much too fast.  We had looked at doing this rally a couple of years ago, but it just goes too fast.  These boats left Gibraltar in late October.  They arrived in Antigua in mid-December and stayed there only a week or so.  Then they sailed straight to the San Blas Islands, where most of them spent only 5 days; and then a quick stop in Portobelo for an organizational meeting about canal transiting.  Then they came straight to Shelter Bay Marina.  Most of the boats arrived here Thursday and half will be leaving on Sunday, the second half on Tuesday.  A few days on the Pacific side at Panama City so they can buy groceries and fuel, and then they all head off across the Pacific.  They will complete a circumnavigation in 2 years.  But they won’t get to enjoy one single place that they visit because the pace is so rushed.  And they must stick to this calendar schedule, regardless of weather.  To us, that does not make any sense whatsoever.  Seems like weather should take the highest priority, not a calendar schedule.  The ultimate decision to leave port in bad weather is up to each captain; but if they don’t leave on schedule with the rest of the rally boats, then they will not be able to complete the circumnavigation with the rally.  So they all head off like lemmings.

Most everyone in this rally is from somewhere in Europe.  Makes sense since they start in Gibraltar.  And almost all of them are nice enough people.  However, a few of them are real a**holes.  One woman in particular is concerned about nothing except herself and her needs.  The marina shuttle bus on Friday morning was crowded to standing room only.  Bill and I had arrived 30-minutes early to ensure that we got seats because we really needed to get to the bus terminal to catch the express bus to Panama City that day.  This particular London woman arrived late, just as the bus was leaving.  She was told that there was no more room on the bus, but she insisted that she was getting on that bus because she absolutely must do grocery shopping.  So she forced the door open into the backs of the people standing shoulder-to-shoulder and forced her way inside.  Another woman was a really good sport about the whole thing and sat down on the floor and worked herself up beneath seats in order to make room for this arrogant UK *itch.  Good thing she was a small woman or she would not have fit on that floor space beneath the seats.  How self-centered can you get!  The London woman could just as easily waited and taken the afternoon shuttle to the supermarket.  And there she was patting herself on the back for being able to get what she wanted, regardless of the inconvenience placed on others.  And Europeans think Americans are arrogant.  The actions of this woman from the UK topped any American arrogance that we have ever seen.

We reserved a slip at a marina in Bocas del Toro.  People have warned us how bad the noseeums are there.  Since I am so very sensitive to noseeum bites, we figured we should go to a marina where we can run the air-conditioners instead of leaving the boat hatches open to breezes and bugs.  If the bugs are not bad when we get there, then we can always check out of the marina and do some anchorage exploring of the area.  Weather prediction as of now is good for passage Tuesday and Wednesday.  We requested the marina obtain our zarpe from Colon to Bocas on Monday and reserve the fuel barge for 110 gallons on Tuesday morning.  Assuming the zarpe is issued without delay then we will be leaving late Tuesday morning for a passage straight to Bocas del Toro.

January 28, 2008 Monday

Bill had ordered two 1-gig strips of extra-low-profile DDR RAM for our main computer.  Since he added the AIS, our Maxsea is very sluggish.  We are hoping that this additional RAM brings it back to faster speed when dealing with the charts.   The fact that the AIS is identifying more than 100 boats at a time here by the Panama Canal is probably eating up a lot of the memory, so more RAM should help.  Unfortunately, the only place Bill could find that sold extra-low-profile DDR would not ship via FedEx, which is the courier service recommended by the marina.  The RAM could only be shipped via UPS.  We have tracked it online and know that it arrived in Colon last Friday afternoon.  Bill is going into Colon to try to pick it up from UPS.   We are ecstatic that this delivery made it to Colon before we depart for Bocas del Toro tomorrow morning. 

1 comment:

  1. The Treaty Concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal and the Panama Canal Treaty, both signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, were the outcome of fourteen years of effort to turn over to Panama its major resource. In January 1964, two dozen Panamanians were killed and hundreds were injured when a group of students entered the Canal Zone and attempted to raise the flag of Panama. Treaties were drafted by the administrations of Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 and Richard Nixon in 1971 for turning control of the canal over to Panama, but the tentative agreements were ultimately rejected by Panama. In March 1973, the United Nations Security Council introduced a resolution for a "just and equitable" solution to the dispute and "effective sovereignty" for Panama, but the United States vetoed the motion.

    Henry Kissinger, secretary of state to Presidents Nixon and Gerald Ford, served as the principal negotiator for the United States with Panama beginning in 1973 and reached an agreement with Panamanian officials in September 1977, when Jimmy Carter was president. The treaties governed the operations and defense of the Canal through December 31, 1999, and guaranteed the permanent neutrality of the Canal. An orderly and complete transfer of jurisdiction over the Canal and the Zone from the United States to Panama occurred in 2000.

    The treaties of 1978 were opposed by the more right-wing conservatives in the United States as undermining national security. The Carter administration argued in a large public relations campaign that the agreements represented "fairness, not force" in U.S. foreign relations. As with all treaties, those with Panama required two-thirds majority approval (66 votes) in the U.S. Senate. Two "reservations" were added to the 1978 treaties: one allowed for American armed intervention in Panama if the Canal closed, and the other was an agreement to station American troops in Panama after 1999. Panama agreed to the amendments and the treaties passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 68-32.


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