South Pacific Voyage 2012-2013

Sailing From Panama, Bound For Galapagos

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Monday morning and aboard the Picton Castle hands are aloft loosing sail, making ready to sail off the hook. We will be at sea again before lunch, bound for Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos. We are anchored off Taboga Island, 7 miles off the coast from Panama City. This seems to be where Panamanians come for a holiday or a party weekend, with dance music playing on the beach, and lots of boats rafted up just off the shore. It’s the sort of place you could wear a sun dress, flip flops and a straw hat, and yet not particularly stand out as a tourist. Yet it is also a beautiful island with a lovely old stone Latin village with gardens and flowers everywhere to explore. People are very friendly and the place was “muy tranquillo” after the bustle of Panama City.

Hard to believe it’s been nine days since we made our transit of the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean – Panama is a styling city, and a lot of fun, but it’s also pretty hectic and time seems to fly there. We do a huge amount of provisioning in Panama – you really can buy anything there, and some days it felt like we did actually buy one of everything the city could sell us – from barrels of engine oil to crates of instant noodles. The crew had their own provisioning to do too – stocking up on things that may be harder to find in the small islands, and buying local souveniers, like the colourful molas that the local ladies make from cutting out patterns from many layers of fabric. Panama is a very effective place to get things done too and they do things pronto and on time! The slowest part of the procedure was probably getting everything back to the ship where we were anchored off Isla Flamenco Marina. Many runs to shore and back in the small boat, and hoisting everything aboard with block and tackle. And of course we had to do lots of shopping for friends at Pitcairn Island only 3,200 miles away.

Meanwhile the deck department was kept busy repairing some minor damage to the headrig. During our transit we had a close encounter with the concrete wall of one of the locks – I guess piloting a little ship like ours is quite different to directing a panamax tanker with twin props and bow thrusters for our pilot. The Panama Canal is the only waterway in the world where the pilot actually takes command of the vessel and does not simply act as an “advisor” to the ship’s master. Captain said it was not bad and that the pilot was actually doing a good job and just got out of shape. Thankfully the damage was minor, and no spars were broken, so everything is now repaired – nearly all was done by the crew aboard ship. Good learning process for our gang to re-rig everything, replace the stays and ratlines and re-parcel, serve and tar everything and give it all a good check over – could have been way worse.

And then there was the sight-seeing to do. We are definitely all about the sailing, but one of the great charms of a Picton Castle voyage is the time off to explore ashore; two watches are off at a time so there’s always someone to hang out with, and Panama has much to see and do for crew with time off and a tourist agenda. Highlights were the ruins of Old Panama, the old city sacked by Henry Morgan in the late 1600’s, and Casca Viejco with its gorgeous, crumbling colonial Spanish architecture. Actually it’s crumbling much less than the last time the ship was here in 2010 – the shiny new bars and restaurants and beautiful apartments seem to be evidence of money pouring in to this place. The facades of the grand old buildings are being preserved and restored, and the buildings behind rebuilt into these beautiful bourgeois apartments. Every other block seemed to be a building site, the facade propped up with vast scaffolding instead of the whole thing just being allowed to collapse and begun again.

The headrig was all finished a couple of days ago, and we were provisioned and all ready to go, but even the best laid plans are not set in stone and our departure was delayed by a couple of days because one of our crew members got sick. I am pleased to report he is back aboard and almost back to perfect health now. It’s one thing dealing with someone being unwell at sea, and of course we make long offshore passages so we are pretty well equipped to take care of such situations, but it’s quite another thing to leave port with someone sick. We also hate to leave shipmates behind, and so we waited the couple of days it took for him to be back on form before setting sail. Good medical care in Panama is a plus too.

Now we are off shore again, 800 miles to the famed Galapagos Islands in light winds. Ahead lays the Pacific Islands, the Equator and Christmas.