March 2009

March was our third full month in the country of Panama .  We haven’t stayed this long on our boat in any other country since we have been cruising.  It is a beautiful country and an inexpensive place to live on your boat.   We have met several boats who have stayed in Panama for several years, some as long as 12 years.  We have also met and read about many people from the U.S., U.K., and Europe making their permanent retirement home in Panama.

Several large ships passed us as we headed to the breakwater for the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal.   As required, we reported our approach to the Cristobal Signal Station which controls traffic through the breakwater and into the harbor on the Atlantic entrance to the canal.   We glide through the breakwater behind a large container ship and request permission to anchor in the designated anchorage area for small boats.  The canal and adjacent container port operates 24 x 7 and Livin the Dream gets very dirty from all the air pollution.

Small boats tied together in Panama Canal locks

small boats in Panama Canal

Sailboats going through the Panama Canal are required to have four line handlers on board to make the transit.  Since most of the cruising boats going through have two people on board, they need to either hire line handlers or find other cruisers to volunteer.  This gave John the opportunity to transit the canal as a line handler on two other cruising boats.  He went on board Green Coral from Switzerland about four o’clock in the afternoon.  The canal authority called on the radio to announce the first of several delays.  Finally at about eleven o’clock we got under way toward the first set of locks.  We tied up with a catamaran to transit the locks.  John’s responsibility as a line handler was to take the messenger line thrown by a canal worker at the top of the wall and tie it to one of the 140 foot lines on the boat.  The messenger line was then used to haul the heavy mooring line up to a bollard on the wall.  When the mooring line was secured to the wall, John pulled the slack out to keep the two boats centered in the lock.  When the four corners were secured, water entered the lock and floated the boat up about 30 feet.  As the boat rose in the lock, John had to keep pulling the slack out to keep the boats centered in the lock.  This process was repeated in two more locks until we were at the level of Gatun Lake at the top of the canal.  It was about one thirty in the morning when we got tied up to the mooring in the lake and went to sleep.

Container ship in adjacent lock

At eight the next morning, we were off again, crossing the lake and entering the cut that led to the locks that would take us down to the level of the Pacific Ocean.  As the boats are lowered in the locks, John has to let the long lines out as the distance from the boat to the top of the locks increases as the level of the lock water drops. By four, John was on his way into Panama City on the Pacific side of the canal to catch a bus back to Colon . 

About two days later John repeated the process with Sirenus from Canada. After filling the boat with new provisions, we left the busy Canal area and rounded the corner to the Chagres River.  The booming boat signals were replaced by the loud roaring of howler monkeys in the adjacent hillsides.  As sunset approached, pairs of parrots squawked as they flew back to their nesting grounds and the cacophony of birds was so loud we were worried that we could not sleep.  But there was silence as darkness fell and we enjoyed the calm and quiet until we experienced the same howler monkey roars and cacophony of birds at sunrise. 


Container ship towers above in adjacent Panama Canal lock

Bobby, Betty & Ann on Panama CanalAfter a few peaceful days we headed to the far western side of Panama to the area of Bocas del Toro.  Ann flew to Panama City to meet her parents, Bobby and Betty, and play tourist for a few days.  Panama City is large modern city with large skyscrapers, huge shopping malls and lots of traffic. Unlike John, they experienced the Panama Canal from a tourist perspective.  They visited the Miraflores Lock and museum with a wonderful explanation of the construction of the canal 200 years ago and an opportunity to watch ships and boats traveling in the canal and in the locks.  An average of 36 vessels travel through the canal each 24 hour period and canal traffic is continuous.


Bobby, Betty & Ann on the Panama Canal

Not to be outdone by John, Bobby, Betty and Ann boarded a boat just outside Gatun Lake.  The tour boat traveled about 26 of the 52 miles in the canal and went through two large lock systems which lowered the boat from the Gatun Lake to the Pacific.  The tour was very informative and a great way for Bobby and Betty to see the canal.

Bobby, Betty and Ann flew to Bocas del Toro to meet John on Livin the Dream where we explored the mangrove islands and beaches of the area.  A highlight of the trip was a visit to Green Acres, a small farm owned by Bob and Linda Ceritui where coco is grown and organic chocolate is made.  The Cerituis sailed to this area on a boat and decided to buy property in the area.  They have built a house and cleared the lush rain forest for a garden area filled with beautiful tropical flowers and trees.  They harvest the coco in small batches and then ferment, dry, roast, and grind the beans to made a delicious 100% pure chocolate. 

coco pod

torch rose














Torch Rose at Green Acres                   

Coco pod

Young Indian visitors


As we cruised through the Bocas del Toro area, we often had young indigenous Indian boys approach the boat in their small leaky dugout canoes to sell local fruits and vegetables and act as our tour guide in the area.  There were usually two to three in each boat with one paddling the boat and another constantly bailing water from the leaking canoes.  We bought some of their fruit and gave them some treats that we had on board.  They were always very friendly and really captured Betty’s heart.



Young Indian visitors

Bobby and Betty returned back to Georgia at the end of March and Ann and John said good bye to Panama and prepared for a 400 mile trip north to the outer islands of Honduras.

Bobby & Betty in Panama

posion dart frog


Poison dart frog at Green Acres                   

Bobby & Betty at Starfish Beach