"Grey Pearl" 62-08 - Braun Jones and Tina C. Jones
March 23, 2008
Grey Pearl Log : Tales from the Pacific side...
Well, Landlubbers - Transiting the Panama Canal was quite an experience. We got word that in less than 24 hours we were cleared to transit and advised to meet our pilot at the entrance to the Canal at 1700hrs, March 20th. There was one problem, we had additional crew (friends) flying in to help handle lines, a critical job while making the transit. Fellow Nordhavn buddy Wayne Davis was already on board. Reliable crewmate Jose Gutierrez arrived from the USA a half hour before we shoved off the dock...but sadly, Steve Kellenberger rushing from San Francisco could not arrive until 2100, four hours after we left the dock. What to do?! Poor Steve...a day late and, well..you know the rest.
We anchored in the area they call the "Flats" and waited for our pilot to board, being advised they are on Central Am. time which means they will be late (min. 1-2 hrs.) He finally showed up - We had dinner and set off for the Gatun Locks around 2245. The Canal was lit like day as it operates 24x7. After much discussion, we had a "center tie" in the lock chamber with a 36 foot sport fish boat rafted to our starboard side. Having this smaller boat rafted alongside of us created a potentially dangerous situation. We were warned that the water 'boils' and causes much turbulence when filling the locks - the sport fish boat rocking back and forth with its tuna tower and outriggers could smash into the Pearls upper deck. Heavily fendered and wary, we moved in tandem as the water rose 28 feet in each lock while our respective line-handlers synchronously took in the lines to keep the boats centered in the lock. The boats rocked and rolled but didn't bash - no problema.
The Canal is 50 miles long from the Atlantic to the Pacific; three locks up each at 28' and three locks down each at 28'; each Canal lock (chamber) is 110' wide and 1,000' long. Our US Navy sizes its ships, carriers, etc. to these dimensions and yes - they have priority passage as per the 'turnover treaty'. We were told a US Navy nuclear submarine passed the night before and none of the canal personal knew about it until they saw it exiting the canal to the sea...cool. What I found especially intriguing is when you've completed the "lock up" and you're the last boat in the chamber as we were during the first 3 locks, you are staring at bridge height at the 950' freighter in the chamber behind you, 28' lower. Or across and up the way at the "lock up" chamber and the humongous Cruise ship 28' higher than you! Yes as they say - a truly a modern marvel.
Well, by 2am we were crossing the Gatun Lake through which the Canal passes the Continental Divide in the rugged mountainous range. Our pilot advised us to anchor at Gamboa and wait until later in the morning (9am, Central Am. time again) to transit the Pacific side locks (Pedro Miguel & Miraflores). The crew welcomed this idea as we were pretty bushed once we cleared the locks (high on excitement and anxiety).
The pilot boarded the boat at 11:30am and we entered the Pedro Miguel locks at 1300hrs. This time we were "nested"/rafted up to a small Panama Canal Cruise ship loaded with touristas. We would enter each lock under our own power and then throw lines over and raft up alongside of the cruise ship who was tied to the wall. This procedure went very smoothly...and, as we've heard from many of you...you could see us on the Canal webcams. Once we entered the last of the locks at Miraflores, we saw our buddy Steve on the observation deck snapping photos of us...so close! In earnest, we tried so hard to get him on board. We were told for security purposes that there's paperwork that has to be completed in advance, fees to the Port Captain(duh), officious documents to be filed, blah, blah and, oh yeah, it was Semana Santa - Good Friday so a big 'forget it'.
Before we could catch our breath the Pearl and crew were in Pacific waters! An hour later, with the very cosmopolitan Panama City backdrop, we were tied up at the Flamenco marina celebrating with ALLL the crew on board.
After a few days of exploring Panama City, and a promising weather window, me & the boys, I call the "Dream Team":) set off for Golfito, Costa Rica (330 miles). We had a terrific passage with lots of fish - at least 20+ strikes on the fishing rods. Some managed to escape but we landed 9 blackfin tuna and now have steaks/sushi in the frig. Braun's father, Commander Bill Jones served as a young US Naval officer in the Canal Zone in the early 1940's. He alerted us to the bounty of fish to be had on the Pacific side...he wasn't kidding. He said to look for where the birds were...and, that's exactly what we did.
Early afternoon after some 20 hours of cruising, we (the Admiral) decided to stop and anchor at Isla Coiba, the largest island in the Pacific Americas and the last of the tropical marine rainforest in the Eastern Pacific...claims a the status of a UNESCO World Hertitage site. Why not enjoy one last tropical island anchorage (no palm trees in Alaska, kimosabe), one last swim off the back of the boat, make up some tuna tartar and chill? It all sounded good...until several hours into our peaceful stay the "park rangers" in their panga showed up. Evidently, two months ago a law was passed and our anchorage is now a National Park that claims to have the same status as the Galapagos Islands(??) - that their fees are $20.00 per person and $300.00 for the boat(over 60')but they'll refrain from charging a fee for the Captain & his wife...grand total, $360.00. Yessiree, anchor up right after dinner...it cost us a beer & coca-cola and their apologies...whatever. Those mooring fees are right up there with Nantucket!
Long and short - we made it to lush and beautiful former Banana Republic, Golfito, Costa Rica where we are comfortably tied up at Banana Bay Marina. The crew will set off for home in the next few days and Braun & I will make for San Jose(my birth place) for a few days visit before setting off for home in Alexandria, VA. We are expecting the Yacht Path freighter scheduled to ship our boat to arrive later in April, as well as fellow Nordhavn friends Roberta & Ken Williams - N68 'Sans Souci'.
We hope all is well in your world...stay tuned...we'll be in touch! Over and Out - Best, Tina & Braun
March 23, 2008
Pearl watchers :
Attached are photos of the Grey Pearl transiting the Panama Canal north to south, Atlantic to Pacific, at Miraflores Locks – SUPER COOL cause you can see the lock open as the Pearl enters and then closed as the Pearl is lowered.
They were taken by Braun’s son from the live Panama Canal webcam at www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html.
The Pearl is the middle vessel in photos 1,2, the lock gate is open.
In photo 5,6, the Pearl is the small white vessel tied up to the larger one for stability while they flush the lock. The lock gate is closed.
There is a sailboat in the background in the same lock chamber as the Pearl, and a large bulk ore carrier in the left lock chamber.
On to Alaska.
Tina and Braun
March 21, 2008
Pearl anchored at Gamboa, in the Panama Canal about mid way between the
Atlantic and the Pacific.
There were a few delays in the our transit of the canal last night - NOT
caused by the Pearl which would have resulted in a mega fine, so we could
not make it all the way through and anchored at 0300. The pilot departed and
we are now waiting for our replacement pilot to finish the transit. We were
on the web cam at about 1030 last night in the Gatun lock.
Today (Friday March 21) we will be in the Miaflores locks on the web cam about 1130 - 1330 Wash. DC time.
Just saw a large gator swimming close by the port side, lookin' for
breakfast. Everyone clustered inside, doors dogged shut.
Tina and Braun
March 20, 2008
The Pearl is anchored in the staging area to transit the canal and we are
scheduled to be in the Gatun lock at 9-1000 pm Washington DC time tonight,
Thursday Mar. 20th and will be transiting through the various locks
finishing on the Pacific side about 330am Friday Mar. 21st.
The Panama Canal is experiencing an extraordinary backup of ships wanting to transit – the worst in its history. There are currently 131 large ships waiting to go through. Pleasure yachts have NO priority and the canal is only allowing 3 or 4 every other day to pass. Consequently there is a huge backup of yachts – wait time of well over a month!
Late breaking news…after diligent efforts (it’s a long story ) the Pearl has managed to nab a precious transit spot and we will pass later today Thurs. 3/20!!
We will start transiting about 7 pm Thursday evening and will clear out on the Pacific side sometime early tomorrow morning Friday 3/21. Panama is on Central Time, one hour behind Wash. DC.
You can watch the Pearl by going to this web site:
We’ll start on the Atlantic side at the Gatun Locks (moving from Colon to Bilboa). Each of the three lock chambers will raise the boat approximately 28’ until we reach the Canal’s highest elevation of 85’. The Autoridad del Canal de Panama(ACP) requires that you have assigned a ACP Pilot or ACP Transit Adviser on board. Also, necessary are line handlers; two for the bow and stern. Ideally, we would to like have a “center tie” in the lock chamber…you can only request but, we could very well be “side tied” to the wall or a tug. The line handling is very important as there’s a considerable amount of wash from the rushing water locking up or down. From what we’ve read, turbulence and current can be tremendous, requiring strength and stamina to keep lines under tight control while hauling them in or paying them out. If one line slips , the hull of the boat can be thrown against the concrete walls or steel lock gates.
We have fellow Nordhavn owner, Wayne Davis (‘Envoy’) on board; Veteran crew member Jose Gutierrez arriving to board just as we pull away from the dock…and, what could not be helped was buddy, Steve Kellenberger (X-IBM buddy of Braun’s & veteran of the Azores to Gib leg in’04) flying in later with hopes of rendezvousing somewhere in between! We got the call that we were scheduled to go…and, go we must!
That’ all for now – until we reach the other side!
Tina & Braun
Time: 1141 local 1741 GMT
Position: 9 22.09N 079 57.05W Panama Canal
Status: departed Isla Providencia 0557 3/7/8 arrived Panama Canal 1141
Course: 163T Speed: avg 8.9kph RPM: avg 1650
DMG from: Providencia 260.9 km DTG to: ETA :
Hours underway: 29.4
Fuel consumed gal: 247 GPH: 8.4 GPM: .94 MPG: 1.06 Fuel remaining : 970 Water remaining gal: 205
Wind: 15E Sea: 3-4 Barometer: 1017 falling Air Temp: 83 Water Temp: 82
Sky: S, CU Visibility: good
Mechanical: All is Okey-dokey...guess you can tell who's doing the "mechanical" report :)
Crew: Kell, TJ & BJ
Since last report: We had an uneventful overnight passage to Panama. The highlight, however, took place just before dusk...we must of hit a school of black fin tuna...all four fishing lines went screaming out at the same time.
I was at the helm at the time, as we have a "drill" for when a fish is "on the hook" - I was at my station...I yelled for Kell to come help, who was diligently doing an engine room check. As it turned out we were all on deck reeling in lines...very exciting. I can report that 2 out of 4 tuna made it on board. Very tasty :) As we approached the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal we were amazed by the shipping traffic. Hundreds of large freighters, tankers, etc...anchored in and outside the harbor breakwater waiting until they can transit the Canal. The harbor is tightly regulated, like a busy international airport.
The town Colon, named after Christopher Colombus (Cristabol Colon) covers the peninsula east of Bahia Limon just inside the breakwater. We have been warned that Colon is very dangerous and infamous for violent crime. No problema, we stay out of Colon.
Not too far from the entrance to the harbor, we set off for Shelter Bay Marina. A fairly new marina that sits on what was once Fort Sherman (US Jungle Warfare School) and boasts, "24/7 security, next to the Coast Guard, within a gated secure area, clean air (?) and water"...straight from the brochure...no worries, we feel very safe & secure. It is here we wait a day or so, get our clearance and inspections, i.e. measurements to get in queue to transit the Panama Canal.
It will be a unique experience for us to transit in our little ship. Since Panama took control of the Canal in 2000, yachts requesting transit have been assigned a much lower priority, and the incentives to hire an "agent" have increased. BIG ships equals BIG money, and they get first dibs. So, not to bore you with details but, we're "workin up to the dance". We have or rather had a date to transit of March 21st which suited us fine as all our crew would be here to help. Recently we've been told we may be bumped until April 4th due to a backlog of ships & yachts and pilot's are not willing to work overtime. Braun's negotiating skill is being put to the test.
We bid farewell to Kell...we so appreciated his help & companionship.
Captain & crew are considering a couple days getaway to the nearby "shouldn't be missed" San Blas Islands...or, we could stay here in the marina and watch the all the action - currently, there's James Bond movie shooting taking place right at the end of our dock!
Signed /Capt'n Tina and Braun
Yacht Grey Pearl
Moored Shelter Bay Marina
Greetings from the bridge of the Grey Pearl –
Since my last update – we narrowly cleared the cut in the reef at San Pedro, Belize in 10’ of water(phew) and had a calm passage south. Braun has already relayed our unexpected stop in Belize City to fix our water maker. Unremarkable but necessary.
We set off from Belize City and elected not to rush our departure from Belize altogether as originally planned and anchored off a small lush Cay just hours north of Guatemala. An idyllic small island with a white sandy beach on the west side, West Snake Cay turned out to be a little slice of heaven. The morning after our arrival, we awoke to a pristine, windless day. The dinghy was down, wetsuits, tanks and gear was placed on board. We happen to land upon an amazing underwater habitat rich in colorful soft coral plus, small and large reef fish alike. Two dives and a late afternoon snorkel we had a bounty of fish, lobster and spider crab.J That evening, the full moon illuminated our little Cay. Unbeknownst to us, we witnessed the full eclipse, too! Snake Cay was a gift…
This side trip to West Snake Cay was fortuitous…that timing thing.
Time: 0830 local 1430 GMT
Position: 13 23.9N 081 23.75W at anchor Isla Providencia, Columbia
Status: departed Roatan, Honduras 3/3/8 0830 arrived Isla Providencia 0730
Course: 137T Speed: avg 7.6 kph RPM: avg 1550
DMG from: Roatan 357.2 km DTG to: ETA :
Hours underway: 47
Fuel consumed gal: 330 GPH: avg 7.02 GPM: .92 MPG: 1.08 Fuel remaining: 970
Water remaining gal: 225
Wind: 17 E Sea: 4-5 Barometer: 1015 steady Air Temp: 82 Water Temp: 81
Sky: CN, CU,C Visibility: good
Mechanical: Nothing to report...phew!
Crew: Kell Achenbach, TJ & BJ
Since Last report: We set off from Barefoot Cay in Roatan for a two-day passage to Isla Providencia. We purposely chose to cruise well off shore when passing Nicaragua to avoid piracy, or unreasonable searches by Nicaragua "authorities"....oh no, New Hampshire Marine Insurance won't allow us to even think about stopping there let alone a few Colombian islands which by the way, are nowhere near Colombia. Isla Providencia just made the cut - for "refueling", but there was no fuel there! Sea and wave conditions improved considerably the second day - sun was out in full force, all four fishing lines were out, the crew was delving into their books on the lido deck...cruising at its best! I think we converted Kell, the die-hard sailor that power is the way to go. :) On that quiet day, we were buzzed by an US Air Force AWAC plane later followed by a US Coast Guard plane. They dipped their wing in response to our enthusiastic waves. Isla Providencia was a welcomed sight. The island looked much like something out of the South Pacific. The early morning light washed this small island (only 3,000 inhabitants), teaming with palm trees of every variety. We dropped the hook and before we had a chance to take the tender down to clear into port, the immigration/customs/agriculture/sanitation party was tied up alongside our boat. As we have come to expect, 3 or 4 "officials" come aboard, ask the usual questions..."No, no tenemos gatos y perros", looked over our paperwork and after a flurry of stamps, photos taken and fishing tips exchanged...we were cleared and officially, "welcomed". It's definitely laid back on this 5 mile by 3 mile island. There doesn't appear to be any trouble...a lot of Colombian military present and we did notice a few DEA agents in town...likely some cooperation on Colombia's part to monitor drug trafficking. No matter, we rather enjoyed chatting it up with the locals and drinking cold dollar beer. We rented motorcycles one day. In typical fashion, we asked for a mapa...the proprietor's response, "You drive out on this road...and, you come back on this road"...yep, a one road island, cool.