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[San Blas Islands] [Portobello]  [Panama Canal]        Feb-Apr 1994
Panama occupies a strategic spot in the world because of the 'Big Ditch', started by France and finished by the US during Teddy Roosevelt's presidency.

San Blas IslandsMola cushion.JPG (26820 bytes)

This string of islands and cays lie along the east coast of Panama and have been controlled by the Kuna Indians despite sovereignty by Spain, Colombia, and now Panama. The men fish and tend coconut plantations and the women make and sell molas for hard cash.  Molas are reverse-appliqué creations where multiple layers of cloth are cut to make colorful pieces of art.

Portobello

A delightful anchorage, with old Spanish forts on the surrounding hills - this is a great stopping spot between the San Blas Islands and the Canal.

Panama Canal

For a small sailing yacht, transiting the Panama wpe11.jpg (35021 bytes)Canal is the ultimate thrill! The process goes something like this:

  • Have boat measured
  • Pay ($125 in '94, $500 now)
  • Get 4 people to handle lines
  • Get up early day of transit
  • Wait for pilot
  • Motor to vicinity of first lock
  • Wait
  • Enter lock inches (it seems) behind huge freighter
  • Pass lines to guys 30' up on canal walls who tie you to cleats
  • Take up slack as boat twists and bucks when lock fills
  • Repeat 2 times - look back down on the Caribbean 80' below
  • Motor like hell for 60 miles across Gatun Lake
  • Anchor for night
  • Up early/wait for pilot
  • Motor to 1st 'down' lock
  • Repeat all of yesterday's drills
  • Motor proudly under Bridge of The Americas

Our transit went very smoothly, thanks to a well-trained apprentice pilot and Nat Gladding, a senior Panama Canal pilot, owner of a Shannon 38' who provided valuable advice and put us in with a not-so-huge freighter.

The towns around the Canal are memorable - Colón is a dangerous place that looks like a perpetual war-zone; go shopping in groups and take taxis wherever you go. Balboa (Panama City) is safer, upscale with lots of high tech gear.  The Duty-Free Zone near Colón is a good source for electronics and liquor.

After the transit of the canal we were off to the Galapagos
 

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