Picton Castle’s stay in Panama was an absolute whirlwind. You’ll have to forgive the lack of Captain’s Logs for the duration of our visit, we’ve been so busy with sourcing, shopping, buying, delivering, organizing, stowing and sailmaking that there has been little time left for writing about it all. On Wednesday afternoon we finally sailed from Panama, bound for the Galapagos Islands on our first passage of this voyage in the Pacific Ocean. The receipts, calculators, shopping lists and inventories have been flying around our tiny shipboard office in the chart house for the past three days, making sure that everything has been accounted for and stowed away properly. Emerging from under a pile of papers and foreign coins, we can finally get back to business as usual (which means regular logs once again).
We had a very rapid and smooth transit through the Panama Canal; it will be a highlight of the voyage for many of the crew. It is quite a trip over the continental divide and through the tropical jungle. The institutional planning and organizing that goes into operating such a large waterway is mindboggling to me – there are so many details to take care of to ensure that ships can pass through quickly and easily. The only hold-up in our day was when we had to wait for our berth to open up at the dock upon arrival at Flamenco Marina. Another vessel, which was supposed to have left earlier in the day, was still at the dock due to some engine troubles. We anchored just inside the breakwater at the marina, making ourselves very obvious and letting them know that we were ready to move in as soon as they were able to get underway. The wait was just over an hour, but just as the wind shifted, causing us to have to get underway from our anchorage in the marina (it was kind of tight in there), the other vessel got going and we moved in and went alongside. We were greeted by our excellent agent Francis, with PANACO, who was extremely helpful throughout our stay in Panama. He arranged all of the necessary formalities, and by shortly after dark the off duty watches were able to leave the ship and start exploring this remarkable country, or at least the city.
Our shopping adventures began on Friday when the Captain, chief mate Mike, chief engineer Chris, Ollie and I headed out with Francis. We visited a few different hardware stores, then hit the jackpot in the giant lumber yard of Cochez. It’s always interesting to buy wood in different ports because of the variety of different kinds of local wood. We mostly took measurements that first day, but I was back at Cochez every day that they were open during our stay to order something else. Some of the lumber we were buying is for Pitcairn Island, some of it is for some upcoming carpentry projects on board. We also found a marine industrial hardware store with great shackles and blocks, as well as handheld VHF radios.
Nadja discovered the fruit and vegetable market on our first full day in Panama City. She had gone out shopping for a few fresh fruits and veggies for the crew to eat during our stay in Panama and found one of the most incredible markets she has ever seen. Nadja often assists with provisioning, so she has seen markets in many different ports around the world and was particularly impressed with the variety, quantity and price in the market in Panama. It helps here that she speaks Spanish perfectly. She brought Donald, Siri and I back to the market on our last full day in Panama to stock up on more fresh fruits and veggies for our passage to Galapagos. Even Donald couldn’t stop grinning – he was truly in his element. He kept exclaiming over how cheap the pineapple was (three for $1), how fresh the yucca was and the vast quantities of plantain available. Where many markets are made up of individual stalls selling a bit of everything, the market here is organized by item – all the different kinds of fruits are together, pineapples, cantaloupes, limes, mangoes, then there is one indoor section with assorted garden vegetables, then an aisle of root vegetables, an area for corn and so on. Bananas were the only thing on our list that we had a bit of trouble finding, but we were eventually successful with them too. Now the back deck is festooned with stalks of banana ripening.
Shopping was a big activity for most of the crew during our stay in Panama. Crew members left the ship on their off duty time in small groups, heading out to find the best bargains. Many of our crew found Avenida Central and its pedestrian-only section for inexpensive clothes and shoes, others discovered the craft market at the YMCA, some went to the incredibly giant Albrook Mall and second mate Paul found a big fishing supply store. Shopping isn’t the only thing to do in Panama, most of the crew spent at least part of a day in Casco Viejo, the old quarter of Panama City with its narrow streets, beautiful old stone buildings and churches, quaint squares, sidewalk cafes and local little establishments. Even Isla Flamenco, where the ship was tied up alongside, is an interesting place, the last of a series of islands connected to the mainland by a long causeway, and kind of a tourist spot for Panamanians with waterfront restaurants and bicycle rental shops.