We arrived in Panama City and stayed one night in a swanky but sterile hotel attached to a shiny, two story, humungous shopping centre (under any other circumstances our idea of hell but considering we were in the market for a keyboard for our princess and a few other specialty items, it was pretty perfect..)
So we spent a day navigating this massive retail mecca and successfully purchased a Yamaha keyboard (let the passion for piano continue!) We also fixed an iphone screen, tracked down a yoga mat and found some relatively fresh coffee beans! Then we reloaded our mountain of gear into another mini van and headed down to Shelter Bay Marina…..
After a 1.5 hr trip spent looking for the elusive los monos (monkeys) in the lush rainforest and practicing our very rusty and not at all comprehensive Spanish on our poor driver, we arrived at the Shelter Bay marina in Fort Sherman. We checked into our room and raced down to meet TIKA for the first time…
The first time Greer, Kai and Jaiya meet Tika.. first impressions- ‘she’s big!! and we can’t believe she’s ours!’
The next 14 days were spent pulling out years and layers of yachtie gear from the previous owner (and the original owner before that) ….sorting….scrubbing and dealing with mountains of stuff as we cleared out more and more lockers.. next we scrubbed and scrubbed before putting all wanted gear back. …..meanwhile we are sleeping in a room at the marina because there was no way we could squeeze us/our baggage into this mess!
Day 4- the spare parts locker gets loaded onto the saloon table for sorting…. OMG
Vacuuming out cabins and lockers, bleaching mould and sorting out the nut and bolt box
It takes us 11 days to clean the entire inside of Tika…but by the time we finished she looked like a new boat! I am not sure my (antsi-to-get-out-of-the-marina) skipper fully understood my need to hex her entirely….but I just really needed to do it! To get to know her, to make her ours, to make her home, and….well… for basic hygiene reasons…Captain underpants is now calling me the Queen of Clean and reckons I go down in history as the only sailor EVER to have cleaned the underside of the bilge/floorboards (and yes I cleaned the bilges too) I wish I had taken ‘before’ pictures as well as after pics but take a good look- I doubt the bilges will ever be that clean again
It is a tough 2 weeks. So much to do…stifling humidity…tradies who operate on island time…4 frizzled batteries with a $1k replacement cost….a broken HF radio costing us another $2-3k and a small amount of Russel’s sanity after going through and paying for 4 technicians before finally taking it into his own hands (as opposed to via the marina management) and finding the right guys for the job….The second Panama Canal construction as well as crossing the original canal means that travel to or from the closest town (Colon) or Panama City is delayed anywhere between 1 and 3 hours….So nothing happens quickly…I am starting to understand why yachtie’s call $1k a ‘boat note’ (as in bring-out-another-thousand) as everything seems to cost a boat note (or two or three….)
After 10 days of sweating and clearing/cleaning/sorting we were all grumpy but Russ is walking around like an unexploded bomb and the Marina Maintenance Manager quickens his step, looks the other way and avoids eye contact every-time he walks past TIKA’s berth… Remember that Russel’s main goal in life since he stepped off his parent’s 44ft yacht Pipe Dream in 1996 has been to go sailing on his own ship… he finally has it and he is stuck in a sweltering marina being told (in that ‘no-problemo-latin-American-tone that we usually love) that the parts he was promised 3 weeks ago didn’t arrive because ‘the bus driver forgot to pick them up’….. (anyone who really knows Russ can imagine the gritted teeth on ‘Mr-can-do Russ eh?)
We accidently left the saloon hatches open and went off shopping for a morning in Colon.. It’s wet season in Panama in August. Wet season in the tropics equates to torrential rain, frequent lightning strikes and booming thunder.. we were at the shopping centre marvelling at how all the car alarms went off with every dramatic clap, completely oblivious to the fact that it was raining in our saloon
We came home to totally saturated saloon cushions and pools of water over the seats (the cushions covers had been removed and laundered and all four of us spent an entire morning matching cushions to covers and getting them back on- including sewing one of them on after busting a zip!… Won’t be leaving hatches open ever again, no we won’t…
Kai’s scratched knees and a few mozzie bites have become infected (thank god for antibiotic cream) his glands are up and he is lethargic and unhelpful in that tweeny-attitude kind of way (that puts Russ in an even worse mood…) At this stage I am miserable, with bleach splotches all over most of my clothes (I didn’t bring many…)and I’m ready to fly to Miami for a holiday (I looked up flights- only 3 hours from Panama! I love Miami!- had a ball there in my back-packing 20’s…sigh…. )
There have been a few highlights in between the sweating, bleaching, scrubbing, yelling, attempts to escape to Miami and chasing the Marina Maintenance manager … Alejandro our electrician extraordinaire helped Russ maintain a (small) amount of his sense of humour as he slowly worked through the mass of electrical wires that make Tika tick….Raising the red Aussie ensign flag and getting the registration plate declaring Fremantle as our home port up felt really good!
I am not sure any of us would still be in tact if it wasn’t for the Marina Pool….We jumped in every couple of hours to cool off and play…by the time we walked the 10m back to Tika we were practically dry and ready for another swim but the momentary relief from the heat, sweat and enormity of our task a little more palatable…
After 10 days of clearing, cleaning and adding copious amounts of rubbish to the Panamanian land fill… we start to move our suitcases from the room and rattle everything in…a few items from home, some new sheets and pillows etc and slowly TIKA starts to feel like a home..
When unpacking a suitcase we found a brand new packet of pencils! Joy!
Jaiya’s cabin- clothes and toys go in boxes on the top bunk and she sleeps below..
Kai gets a luxe double cabin (on the proviso that he moves to the bunk above Jaiya if we have visitors on board)
Day 11- Tuesday 1st September: we finally move out of the marina room and onto TIKA… and on our first night aboard opened a very special gift from the Marns family….
…..complete with rituals for blessed sailing, little bits of Australia (including stones both from our home and our Neerabup property) a gorgeous glass bead mobile and pages upon pages of messages, creative stories, jokes, interesting facts on sailing and….well…. lots of luscious love, really…. Thanks mum/nanna/Jenni and all!
The Shelter Bay Marina at Fort Sherman, Colon
The day for provisioning arrived and we booked a driver with a van for a big day of shopping… We planned to hit the local city markets first thing in the morning. We also needed a hardware store, a visit to the Port Captain to check out of the Cristobal port, a bank, a supermarket and a department store!
We wanted at least 8 weeks worth of food on board so we can hang out at the Kuna Yala (San Blas) Islands without needing to find a major port with a supermarket for a long, lazy two months. A 6am pick-up was arranged with a vague up-front apology that any delay in her arrival time could be due to the hold up at the new canal works (a second, wider Panama Canal is on it’s way…)
So we were up at 5am, made an on-the-run breakfast for the kids to eat in the van and were out the front of the Marina office on the dot of 6am ready to hit the mayhem and fresh produce of the markets……
…we waited until 8.30am… (see image of Russ and Jaiya: not amused) Finally she arrived and we battled the traffic controls at both canals and eventually made it to the still thriving inner city market. Colon reminded us a little of Havana with old, Spanish architecture crumbing at the residents’ feet and home-strung satellite dishes with a myriad of d.i.y cables crisscrossing the antique building facias and down into the crowded, muddy streets.
We love markets and this one reminded us of our travel’s through Asia and provisioning at Friday markets that saw entire villages transform into massive, thronging fresh food commerce centres….
This wasn’t a touristy place and we were advised not to take our big camera. Alana our driver explained to us that it was quite safe because she had made friends with all the bad guys. They called her ‘aunty’ and she paid them a few dollars every time she visited! Sure enough, as she pulled up, a park was created for her and she was ushered into it on the manically busy street. The bad guys hung back but watched us the entire time we were there and (although we didn’t notice it) apparently stopped other bad guys hassling us. Russ took off on his own a few times to negotiate on a pumpkin or some nice looking parsley and he did notice that he got hassled when he was away from us and Alana (it didn’t bother him as he just used the old trick of asking the stall holder ‘is this guy your friend?’ and the seller, not wanting to lose a customer, said ‘no, not my friend’ and told the bad guy to bugger off)
As we left, a fight was breaking out and Alana hurried us into the car (but not before slipping the guys some change for watching over us and her car) In hindsight, given that we were late for the market (freshest veggies) and that by the time we arrived home in the late afternoon the produce was kinda wilted (therefore cancelling out the benefit of market shopping in the first place), we may have been better off just veggie shopping (last stop) at the supermarket… but then again it was a great cultural experience! The meat sections of third world markets are always a little confronting (no refrigeration!) and I think the sight of the pigs heads all lined up was almost enough to turn Kai and Jaiya vegetarian..
3 supermarket shopping trolleys plus market produce, a trolley full of hardware, a couple of pillows, a big bag of plastic containers and 16 bars of Lindt dark chocolate later and we headed back to the marina juggling boxes of eggs and bags of fruit on our laps. The kids were absolute troopers and ran around the supermarket crossing items off the list, managed the huge line up of groceries at the check-out, crammed bags of produce like a jigsaw puzzle into Alana’s van and helped cart it all back to the boat- no fighting, no complaining (even though we didn’t even stop to eat- thank god for the breaky wraps we made at 5am!) and no electronic devices!! Feeling very grateful for the teamwork after a long day…we were all exhausted and still faced with the daunting task of somehow putting it all away and into Tika’s freezer, fridge, store room and lockers….
We strung a hammock for some of the longer life fruit and veggies (looked great with the orange awning behind it)
Saturday September 5th and we had planned to head off on this day…we still had some supplies to get away and a bunch of other jobs to do before we were ready to set sail. Russ set the latest leaving time as 1pm and at 11am we assessed our status and started wavering on how possible it really was to leave that day- It was looking like one more night at the marina and an early leave the following day….
At this point Kai surprised us all by confidently declaring that actually we ARE leaving, we CAN get the jobs done.. there is NO WAY we are staying another night and we simply had to work as a TEAM and make the deadline!!…mum has to let go of having everything perfect, dad has to be ok with leaving 30 minutes later than scheduled, Jaiya has to help him clean up the saloon and that is it-WE ARE LEAVING today (turns out he had also had enough of the marina!)
Kai’s energy was infectious as he worked like a trojan doing dishes, cleaning up, stowing the bags of groceries and keeping us all motivated by regularly shouting out how many minutes we had left to the deadline and encouraging us to JUST GET GOING!
So it was Kai that got us out of Shelter Bay. And at 1.40pm, we let go of the lines, motored out of the marina, pulled up the main and passed through the breakwater and into the fray of ships heading to and from the Panama Canal…Goodbye Shelter Bay! May our adventure begin!
A small ode to Susi: For those of you who don’t know, TIKA was on the market because one of the previous owners sadly passed away in Panama in April this year….Even though we didn’t know her we somehow have a sense of her after taking over her boat. Once you have cleared out someone’s spice rack and sewing box you get a feeling for who they were. I once cleaned out my uncles shed for my aunty a year or so after he had died….After a day of cleaning out his little sacred space I felt that I knew him intimately… I would pick up a packet of screws and think ‘now where would uncle David have kept these?’ then I would guess at one of the little plastic utilities drawers, pull it out.. and voila! the exact same size and type of screws..That day I felt that I got in sync with how he ticked and how he had systemised his shed and who he was. It has been the same thing sorting through Susi’s legumes and grains box and her many Ayurvedic and herbal products. It’s strange but we somehow get the feeling that we would have liked Susi and shared similar values with her…we also know that her and Georg (who Russel met and sailed with for a short time during the canal transit, sea trial, survey and sale transaction) sailed for 17 years and circumnavigated with their two daughters. Susi was a traveller and travellers are usually just cool people. So to Susi (and Georg), thanks for passing on such a beautiful boat. We promise to look after her and to carry on the baton of travel and adventure under her sails…