Sunday, December 26, 2010


FRIENDS HELPING FRIENDS….that’s what it’s all about.

Fifteen minutes before friends Belinda and Chris, S/V Nahanni, were to leave on their Canal Transit we get a knock on the boat hull….."One of our line handler’s is a no-show---Can you or Randy come along?” Decision: Lynn is to go. Quickly I throw an overnight bag together and we’re on our way.

Now, the rule is a boat must have four line handlers or the transit has to be cancelled and the boat then is charged a cancellation fine. The other handlers are from New Zealand: Shareen and Gerard along with Belinda and I.

We have to wait our turn to enter the lock.

The first set of locks we do a side tie with two power boats. We had to untie and retie at each lock.

Belinda and Chris with the Adviser.

Belinda getting her lines ready for the "Monkey Fist" which is thrown by linehandlers on shore.

The canal flooding to raise us approximtely 28 feet.

Looking back to the Caribbean Sea.

Next morning the adviser was supposed to arrive between 0630 and 0700hours. Showing up at 0730 we were first chased by a squall.; then had a torrential downpour with limited visibility for the majority of the day. The next set of locks we were center tied by ourselves. These three locks went very well. In the last lock we ended up with company, an enormous car transporter behind us.

Belinda and Chris decide to take a mooring ball at Balboa Yacht Club so we can quickly get to shore by water taxi. They pay for us to take a taxi directly from Panama City to the Marina which I personally am very grateful for.

By 1600 hours we are on shore waiting for the taxi. The taxi arrives by 1700 hours. We’re in rush hour traffic; forgot what that was like….slower than slow. After a third toll booth we managed to pick up speed, however, the rain still won’t ease up, the visibility is awful so we travel between sixty and eighty km on a 110km highway. We pass an overturned car in the passing lane; very dangerous with no emergency cones and it’s dark. Two miles later we pass a mud slide. Good thing we’re going slowly. Many people are driving with their emergency lights flashing.

It’s now past 1930hours when finally we reach Colon. It has taken us almost twice as long tonight. As we head for the bridge at the Gatun Locks which will take us home to the Marina we are stopped by an enormous flood. Cars are parked all over. We’re in a small low van and the driver says he can not make it through the flooded area. We sit and wait, but only four wheel drives seem to be making it through all the water. We have no choice but to turn around and the taxi driver says he will take us to Hotel Washington as we will not be able to make it home tonight. Aughhhh.

As our luck would have it tonight the taxi driver took one of the side roads that ended up flooded. He tries to make it through the deep water and sure enough we get stuck and the car stalls. He and Gerard decide to push the car out of the water. As they push backwards I steer. The water is approximately eighteen inches high coming in the front doors. Finally out of the water the vehicle motor is actually flooded, so we sit and wait. The taxi driver calls a friend in Panama City who will come and help him. Not a great plan as we do not want to sit in the vehicle for another two or three hours as we are not in a safe part of the town. Plus it not only is dark but continues to pour with rain. He then calls the police and has no luck getting us help. Finally the car sputters to life and we take a different road to the Hotel.

We had torrential rains all night. We tried calling the Marina to no avail. Gerard calls Stanley, a Marine Agent to see if he can get us a 4X4 to drive us back to the Marina. He said not to day; in fact he has heard the bridge crossing the canal has washed away. Not good news. We ask about a water taxi and again he said the weather is so bad the water taxis will not run. Plus, it is a National Holiday: Mother’s Day. This means of course no one wants to work. Well I must say this Mother only wants to get home!!

Flooded street outside Hotel.

Finally we contact Frank, the Harbour Master at Shelter Bay. He explains there is a man who commutes daily by water from Colon, but unfortuantely he in fact left his boat at Shelter Bay and is stuck in Colon. Also Frank said the Marina bus could not make it to the Marina because the bridge was out. The local news is full of flood stories with the highway to Panama City even closed. There have been many deaths from mud slides. At least we are dry and warm. (I later read in one of the Tourist newspapers that the Canal in fact had been closed for seventeen hours, an unprecedented event in the history of the waterway. This was caused by overflowing banks on Lake Gatun and Lake Alajuela. The waters caused entire island-like patches of earth filled with trash to fall into the Lakes and these “trash islands” caused the canal to close. Panama had 315% more precipitation than expected for this time of the year.)

Next we call the Tourist Police to see what condition the road is in now and unbelievably they have no idea.
Communicating with Rand on a regular basis it sounds like the road may not be open for at least another two days. There are so many conflicting stories. We decide the only possible way home at this point could be a Helicopter. Derek and Cathy (Idyll Island) also have friends stuck in Panama City. I call two Helicopter Companies…One says they have no flights for a week. The next company said they can take us today….YIPEEE!!!

The plan is made: The couple stuck in Panama City go to the Albrook Airport. They will be flown directly to Shelter Bay where the pilot will then come over to Colon and pick us up at the Colon Airport and take us to Shelter Bay. We quickly pack what little luggage we have and check out. As we are checking out we get a call saying the Colon Airport has been closed indefinitely….Oh nooooooo!

Then the woman at the Hotel Desk said she has just approved the Helicopter to land right here at the Hotel. FABULOUS!!!!

Even these huge ships look like they are sinking.

Within ten minutes we are home.


1 comment:

Hunter Schultz said...


Great story. Rain was really bad that week and still is to some extent.

Glad we could be of help!