Tumultuous waters stirred before us in the final lock before entering the Pacific. Our adviser, who was provided by the Panama Canal Authority, described the turbulence and necessitated the need to move forward slowly in order to raft up to the Australian registered vessel, Brizo. As we moved off we found that Brizo in front moved way too slowly for us to maintain rudder control. “Stay straight no matter what,” Jose had advised us. Brizo reversed, “WTF!” Thomas reversed quickly as the pace of the current caught us projecting us forward to the front gates of the lock. Continuing in full reverse to avoid over shooting Brizo into the land of the gates we heard a grating crunch and then there was no more reverse. The current pushed us sideways into the tourist boat that was on the wall along the other side of Brizo, we hit it with a heart wrenching bang. Our crew worked urgently to push us off. Calls of advice came as the slow realisation of our situation dawned on others around us and they jumped to assist. Images of being torn apart crossed my mind but I was relieved to be wearing a life jacket but then there was the horror realisation that Thomas, safely in the cockpit for the trip, was not. No time to retrieve one for him if I was to help protect Qi. He’d have to swim. Jose responded quickly to the engine failure and called for lines to be thrown to the side of the canal where a dreamy line handler was rattled into action in response to my English calls for help. Damn, what was the Spanish word for help? By this time a sickening grating sound of the side wall of the canal tearing away at Qi’s fibreglass hull echoed in our ears as we dashed to get a fender between us and the wall. Thomas launched into forward gear, thank goodness it still worked, and we managed to secure some protection.
What a nightmare after such a delightful transit through the canal. In hindsight we should have called a halt to the rafting up and gone side wall on our own to begin with. We wouldn’t have entered the current near the other boats. We also could have waited until Brizo was already rafted up before we moved, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. The initial crunch when we hit the tourist boat left Qi with some deep gouges at mid-ship and the bathing platform, which is not integral to her structure, has lost a fair bit of fibreglass and is slightly buckled from the touch up with the wall. We are extremely grateful for our safety and the of our crew and that Qi appears to have got off quite lightly. (I did break a nail though). The canal captain boarded Qi, once we were clear of the locks to inspect the damage and to ensure that the Canal Authority was not to blame. It was a long process and all we wanted to do was get Qi to the anchorage before darkness fell.
We are extremely grateful to our crew, Christian and Dagmar from Germany and Jackson from Sydney, Australia. Their efforts avoided the worst case scenario. Thanks guys. Now, our dash into the Pacific is delayed until our gearbox is repaired and the hull gets a bit of epoxy. Apparently there’s no wind for a couple of weeks so we would have needed to take our time anyway.
In the weeks leading up to the transit we had been working on repairs and upgrades to prepare for the Pacific. It was a major effort to catch the old jazzed up school buses to go and get groceries. This entailed an hour and a half chaotic ride along the coast road to a little shopping centre on the outskirts of Colon. Limiting our trips to town increased our chances of survival in Panama. The drivers were extreme sport enthusiasts.
Our time in Porto Lindo was interjected with swims to the shore of Linton Island, a place where the bad monkeys rule. It was quite stressful to complete my tai chi routine and do a bit of yoga whilst staying alert for an invasion of violent spider monkeys. These monkeys were abandoned by their owner who left the island to live just across on the mainland. They have taken over the ruins of the house and draw the unsuspecting tourist in with performances of gymnastics and cuteness. Only on one occasion did the girl monkey appear swinging through a nearby tree over hanging the bay. Coaxing Thomas towards her with calls and acrobatics, he tenaciously moved closer, intoxicated by her antics. “No, Thomas, don’t be lulled into a false sense of awestruck! She’s evil!” He backed away and admired how muscular her arms were. Yes, she was definitely capable of the harm we had heard she inflicted. Bad Monkey! This encounter didn’t disrupt our exercise routine of swimming to shore and I continued to do my tai chi and yoga but in the water.
We needed to move to Shelter Bay to be measured for the transit of the canal and we had organised to be line handlers for John and William, father and son from the United States, so we could have experience prior to Qi’s transit. John had been through a few times before so we appreciated his commands and experience. It was helpful in knowing what to expect and this preparation helped avoid even more damage to Qi. Once we transited with John, we moved to Portobello to get out of the expensive marina and to get back into the beautiful Panamanian country-side. We had a lovely few days before returning to Shelter Bay to collect our line handlers for our transit. Heaps more pics below.