Georgia J

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Sharon’s Blog 8/9/14 Las Perlas…and Beyond

We stayed at the Balboa Yacht Club just long enough for the euphoria to subside and to deal with the mundane like buying diesel and getting laundry done.  Although, I must say it was nice to eat dinner at a T. G. I. Fridays for the familiar. 

If I was going to use one word to describe Las Perlas, the Pearl Islands, it wouldn’t be pearls, it would be whales.  We hit the Islands at the peak of the time for the humpbacks.  Our first two stops, La Contadora and Mogo Mogo came with crystal blue water and whales in the anchorage.  Our third stop, Isla San Jose will be remembered as one of the most rolly anchorages we have ever had.  The Captain was less than happy. After only one night there, we decided to clock some miles and did an overnight passage to Isla Cebaco.  Crossing the Gulf of Panama was like driving though Sea World.  We have never seen this many whales and dolphins.  One whale breeched 5 times in a row!  Seeing the marine life never loses its excitement for us.  Although with this many whales out there, we were relieved they kept a little distance between us. 

There is nothing that will wake you up from an overnight any faster than seeing a panga full of men with machine guns quickly coming your way.  As they got nearer we could see they were wearing life jackets so we knew they had to be military, Naval de Panama, in this case.  This was only the second time we have been boarded except when checking in or out of a country.  We were more than a little apprehensive as our paperwork was not quite in order.  On the advice of our agent, we had checked out of Panama in Panama City.  He assured us it was okay to stop in these islands even though the rules require departure from Panama within 72 hours.  Well, he was right or the very nice official who came aboard did not catch it or chose to ignore it.  He was very professional, spoke almost no English and was most concerned that we did not have any stowaways.  He directed us to a tienda where we could buy cerveza and sped away. 

Lured by the promise of a totally flat anchorage with excellent holding, we decided to stop in Bahia de Honda.  The promise about the anchorage was correct, but it was also one of the most beautiful places we have seen in Panama.  It was like being on a lake surrounded by some surprisingly large mountains.  The tiny pueblo on the island was very remote and isolated.  The village was very poor, but the people were friendly.  Although, we aren’t sure this very old woman who was skipping around us making guttural sounds and laughing wasn’t putting a hex on us.  We had a steady stream of visitors rowing out to Georgia to sell us fruit, eggs and to ask for fish hooks and batteries.  Fish hooks we could spare but we too are out of batteries. 

We are getting close to Costa Rica and will be glad to be back in communication range.  We have not had internet or cell phone since leaving Panama City, relying only on the ham radio and our expensive Sat phone.  It is time to pull out a new courtesy flag.


Panama Navy after boarding

Bahia Honda

Sharon going for groceries

Home where we bought bread

Every country has its devils


Kim’s Blog 7/28/14:   Panama Canal transit

I had no interest in transiting the canal until I read, Path Between the Seas by David McCullough.   Neither Sharon nor I could put this 700 page book down once we started.  We were well versed in the history of the canal before we started. However, even without this preparation, I would have found the canal the single most fascinating trip in our journeys.

Our line handlers were on Georgia J by 5:00 pm, a two hour delay from the time given to us the prior day.  Our agent provided Noberto and Rick, both professional line handlers with many transits under their belt.   We also hired Dylan, a 17 year Canadian with 60+ transits and excellent Spanish skills.  Finally, Angel, a Spanish biologist, joined us as a volunteer for his first passage.   After we anchored, Sharon served an excellent dinner while we waited for our Canal Authority Advisor.  The advisor, Roy, arrived by boat after dark and we learned that there would be another hour delay.  While we waited, Sharon feed Roy his dinner.  Finally, it was time to pull up the anchor and head for Gatun Locks.  The arrival timing is precisely coordinated so that we would enter the locks just behind a large cargo ship.  Unfortunately, our anchor didn’t cooperate.  The chain kept twisting bringing the anchor to the deck upside down.  After many ties, Dylan and I got it on board covering us with sticky Panama mud.  We were now 15 minutes late.  

Georgia was running fast and hot as we approached Gatun Lock.  At night, the locks look pretty spooky- big ships, bright lights and lots of industrial noise.  However, Roy’s instructions were incredibly precise- slow to 1.5 knots, turn a bit port, or go to neutral.  Every instruction was accompanied by reassurance that we were doing a great job.   The trick was to be just outside the locks when the ship went in, but to avoid the worst of the currents and prop wash.  When we almost there, two guys appeared on each side and monkey fists started flying.  A monkey fist is a rubber ball attached to small line which is thrown at the boat.   Our line handlers grabbed the small line with the monkey fist and tied it to the giant lines we brought with us.  The guys on shore then walk with us (dragging lines in the water) into the locks.  We were not tied to another boat, so we needed all four line handlers.  The shore guys pull our big lines to the top of the lock where they are secured.  The giant doors that were installed 100 years ago then close and the water begins to rise.  The mixing of salt and fresh water creates lots of turbulence while our line handlers pull the slack and keep Georgia J from turning sideways in the lock.  It is an odd sight to see our depth finder increasing 30+ feet in eight minutes.  When the lock is full, the giant ship powers up putting lots of pressure on our lines.   

Without untying the monkey fist lines, the guys on shore walk forward to the second and third Gatun lock where the process is repeated twice more.  Our total elevation gain was 85 feet.  After giving the ship a little time to exit, we were in Lake Gatun’s fresh water heading for our night time mooring buoy.  The ship’s buoy was massive.  In fact, when we approached it Rick just leaped on the buoy and tied up Georgia J with lots of fenders for protection.  

By the time we had arrived at the buoy at 12:25 am, we had traded stories about family, heard first- hand accounts of the American invasion to depose Manual Noriega, and seen pictures big alligators removed from the locks.  We liked Roy so much that Sharon was trying to fix him up with her sister when the Canal Boat arrived to take him away.  After a couple of beers for the crew, we were down for the night.  Angel rigged a hammock on the bow; Noberto slept in the cockpit and the rest of us slept inside.  Lake Gatun is beautiful at night.

Morning came quickly as the alarm went off at 5:30 am.  Our new advisor, Moises arrived at 7:30 am and we were headed across the lake, 38 mile trip.  Along the way, Angel pointed out bird species.  We saw an alligator and a giant shovel working at the famous contractor’s hill- the most difficult area for the canal builders.  Of course, many giant ships passed us as Moises advised to stay as close as possible to the red buoys marking the channel.  We also passed the prison where Manual Noriega now lives.

The first down locking is at the Pedro Miguel lock.  Now we go in front of a big ship, not behind.  Again, the timing was precise.  We could not enter too soon since the suction of giant intake holes would pull Georgia into the wall.   Going too slow is also a problem with a massive ship approaching our stern.  Again the monkey fists were thrown, but this time our line handlers let the line out when the lock drains like a big bathtub.

We crossed the one mile Miraflores Lake and maneuvered slowing waiting for the Miraflores locks to become available.   More monkey fists fly and we are almost done. 

Our only significant problem occurred in the Miraflores Lock.  The guys on our port side of the locks were nowhere to be seen when it was time to move from the first lock to the second lock.  Our land handlers were whistling for them and Moises was on the radio, furious that they were not there to release us.  The problem is that a big ship displaces massive amounts of water pushing Georgia J through the lock like a spitball from a straw.  When moving, we needed to stay under 3 knots so the guys on shore walking with lines can keep up.  With current pushing us forward, I needed to go into reverse to slow down.  Each time I shifted to reverse, the boat wanted to turn sideways in the lock.  This required me to shift into forward gear, apply lots of power, turn the bow and then go back into reverse before gaining more speed.  I was sweating at the end of the lock as the lines were quickly secured to stop us from ramming the big black doors.  Noberto and Rick did a masterful job in bringing the boat to stop as I applied full power in reverse.  All of this occurred with Angel’s girl friend (along with hundreds of others) viewing us from the visitor’s center not to mention the internet webcams. 

When the last lock door opened, we shot out of the locks at 8 knots and were officially in the Pacific Ocean. 

Everyone involved- our crew, advisors and line handlers did a masterful job.  However, Sharon worked hardest, producing gourmet meals in a shifting time schedule while taking pictures and dodging monkey fists.  Everyone’s effort (and especially hers) have been duly noted in the Captain’s big book of important stuff.


S/V Georgia J, moored at Balboa Yacht Club, Panama City, Panama

Big balls are required to transit the Panama Canal

Big doors of Gatun Locks close behind us

Snuggling up to the Ocean Prince

On Lake Gatun

Almost done

Releasing the lines

View from our stern- Miraflores Locks

Miraflores Locks (photo credit: Martha)

Moving to the last Miraflores Lock

 Measurement done 7/22/14

We got an email at 7:30 am instructing us to head to an anchorage 3 miles away to meet the admeasurer.  We took down the sun covers and were anchored at 9:10 am.   Before long a boat approached dropping off a very nice official.  The first measurement showed us slightly over 50'.  On the second try we were 49.87 feet.  The 1.56 inch difference saved us $500 in canal fees.   The only problem was that we were informed that sandwiches are not acceptable for the Canal Advisor since a full meal is required.  After completing some paper work, the admeasurer was picked up and we headed back to the marina.

 George J, back in Shelter Bay   

Meeting the Canal Authorities

Admeasurer at work


Kim’s Blog 7/20/14:   Panama Canal process

We are nervously anticipating our transit from the Atlantic to the Pacific.   Here is an abbreviated description of the process. 

Measurement and inspection- expected tomorrow 7/22

We anchor outside Colon to meet the Canal Authority Admeasurer.  We must go to the measurer, not vice versa.   If you don’t like the rules, feel free to go around South America.  We have removed our dinghy and solar panels hoping that Georgia J will measure under 50 feet which saves $500 in fees.

Day 1 of the transit

The current wait for transit is about 3 days after measurement.  We will have 4 line handlers on the boat for the transit who will meet us in the marina in the morning.  After they are on board, we again go to Colon to anchor and wait for the Canal Authority advisor.  When the advisor arrives, we will head a couple of miles to the Gatun locks and await instructions.   We expect to enter the locks in the late afternoon.   We may be tied to another yacht, a tug or in the lock by ourselves.  There are three Gatun locks.  This is the uphill portion (85’) of the trip.  After we transit the locks, we will tie to mooring buoy on Gatun Lake for the night.  The advisor is picked up by another boat and Sharon cooks dinner for the remaining 6 people on board.

Day 2 of the transit

A new advisor shows up around 6:00 am on Gatun Lake.   We then proceed across lake dodging ships while Sharon makes breakfast for 7 people.   At mid-day we should reach the Pedro Miguel locks and then the Miraflores locks where we will drop the Pacific level.  By mid-afternoon, we will drop off our advisor, line handlers, giant fenders and 150’ lines at the Balboa Yacht Club.   We hope to stay at the Balboa Yacht Club for a few days if there is space available.

Note that our normal tracker will not be operational.  To track our progress, click on the following link.   This website shows all traffic in the canal including Georgia J.

It you happen to be surfing while we go through the locks, you might see us on the Panama Canal webcam at:

For more info on the Panama Canal, see

We are nervous about the swirling currents in the locks, feeding 6-7 people and bumping big ships, but are eager to go.

 S/V Georgia J, moored at Shelter Bay Marina, Panama


Sharon’s Blog 7/19/14 Back from North Carolina

We are back in Panama after a three week trip to North Carolina to see our family.   This is the longest visit we have had in many years.  Erica and the boys were there for almost the entire time.  Connor and Lucas, now ages 6 and 3, are adorable, lively, and shall we say high –spirited.  Grandma and Popeye, as well as the boys, all survived 4 days solo while Erica went to New York for a friend’s wedding.   The longer stay gave us some real quality time with my parents and our siblings.  We owe a special thank you to our nephew and niece, Justin and Stephanie, who not only hosted us but the entire family many times.   They have a fabulous home with a giant play room and a well-stocked back yard.  The children were all shocked that Grandma not only could but would jump on the trampoline!  It is particularly rewarding for our grandsons to do the same things we did and Erica did as children.  Funny, some of the tourist attractions weren’t as thrilling to Erica this time.   A special treat was seeing our nephew and niece, Alan and Sara, and meeting our newest family member, Hudson.  What a charmer he is.  In addition to family time, I had a “must do” day with my dear friend, Rhonda, and we even spent a wonderful evening with our long-time friends, the Keeners, who we had not seen for many years.  All in all, it was a wonderful family event.  We will particularly cherish one evening with my parents.  We took them to dinner at the new restaurant in the old West Jefferson Hotel building.  My parents spent their wedding night there over 67 years ago, as well as an anniversary night one year later.  My Dad even remembered their room number, 15, on both visits.  The proprietors of the restaurant as well as all of the diners enjoyed having Momma and Daddy there again.

We arrived back in Panama one week ago, with a few extra pounds from my Mom’s Southern cooking.  We immediately yearned for the cooler weather of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Our focus now is to get ready to transit the Panama Canal.  Kim has been busily doing all of the boat projects with the parts we carried back with us.  I have started my major provisioning job getting ready for a group of line handlers on board to feed as well as our being at anchor for a couple of weeks.  We have been talking about his for a while now it is time to get it done!


 S/V Georgia J, moored at Shelter Bay Marina, Panama

Erica and the boys

Lucas plots his next caper

On the way to a fire

Kim’s Blog 6/6/14- Panama Update

Georgia J has been resting in Shelter Bay Marina in Panama for just over two weeks.  The marina, swimming pool, restaurant and staff are very nice.  However, we are surrounded by jungle and Colon is too dangerous to visit unless absolutely necessary.  Fortunately, we have lots of stainless to polish and many boat projects to tackle. 

We did just return from a three day trip to Panama City.  A nice couple from the “Inflatable Doctor” picked us up in their truck along with our very sad looking dinghy, Baby J.   We are looking forward to receiving a shiny, non-leaking Baby J in a few weeks.

We were on a mission for air conditioner motors, diesel injectors, and lots of boat stuff which is unavailable in Colon.  We hired Roger, a guy who helps cruisers find stuff, to drive us around.   After a thorough tour of the city’s motor repair workshops, we spent a couple of days sightseeing.   In addition to finding boat stuff, Roger turned out to be a great tour guide and nice guy.

After touring historic areas and canal locks, we finished our trip to Panama City with in great Lebanese restaurant (complete with belly dancers) and returned to Colon on the historic Panama Canal Railroad.

We will be in Shelter Bay for a couple of more weeks before flying to North Carolina.  We will be working hard to be ready to transit the canal when we return in July.

s/v Georgia J-  very hot in Shelter Bay, Panama

A few US military buildings at Shelter Bay have been restored

But most have not

Jungle Walk by Shelter Bay

In the jungle

Miraflores Locks- Panama City

Touring Panama City with Roger

Sharon’s Blog 5/24/14  San Blas and Portobello:

Leaving Santa Marta, we expected to have little to no wind on our two night passage to San Blas.  To our surprise, we actually had enough wind and limited rain for a very good sail.  We will remember San Blas as one of the most beautiful and more unique places we have visited. Both of us were reminded of the Tuamotus in the South Pacific.   The San Blas Islands are numerous, flat, surrounded by reefs, and inhabited by the Kuna Indians.  Although part of Panama, the Kunas rule themselves somewhat autonomously with democratically elected officials who rule with an iron hand.  The Kunas protect their privacy and prefer to be isolated from Westerners.  Recognizing the need for revenue, they sell their crafts, vegetables, fish and lobster to the many tourists who come via boat and even cruise ships.  Although normally considered sullen, we had a lovely encounter with a family who was quite friendly and subsequently made a very large sale.

Our favorite anchorage may well be one of the most beautiful spots we have ever been.  The “Swimming Hole”, as dubbed by cruisers, is small, crystal clear water and surrounded on all fronts by reef.  In fact, I was flabbergasted that Captain Kim was actually willing to go in.  As we inched our way in looking for the perfect spot, I was on the helm, exclaiming as the depths kept dropping.  We ended up dropping in 8.5 feet.  Oh well, who needs more than an extra two feet?

After several days of anxious anchoring, we decided to move on.  We pulled into Green Turtle Cay Marina.  Their web site describes itself as marina, resort, and hotel.  There is actually nothing there except docks, a tiny open air restaurant and amazingly good Wi-Fi (or as they say “wee fee”).  Their web site also said they took credit cards, but they did not.  We were literally scouring through drawers, purses and wiped out the emergency cash in the abandon ship bag.  Fortunately it was cheap! 

While at Green Turtle, we hired someone to drive us into Portobello.  This is actually a very popular anchorage spot for cruisers, but after touring the town sites in about an hour, we were glad we went by car.  Portobello has a rich history as part of the Spanish gold route.  We toured an old mission house where supposedly gold had been stacked to the rafters.  Not sure where all of the gold went, but today it appears to be a very poor community. It’s most famous attraction is a Black Jesus housed in the old cathedral.  Pilgrims come on their knees from Costa Rica once a year to pay homage. 

We left a few days early for Shelter Bay (actually when we ran out of cash).  The marina is at the site of the former US Army jungle training school about 4 miles from the entrance to the Panama Canal.  Taking a shuttle to the grocery store, we got our first glimpse of the Canal.   We will do our transit after we return from a trip to North Carolina next month.  We are both a bit nervous about the transit, but we can worry about that later.


 S/V Georgia J, moored at Shelter Bay Marina, Panama

Swimming Hole Anchorage

Kuna family selling molas from canoe

Beach at Green Turtle Marina
Public Transportation in Portobello
Most unusual Jesus portrait we have seen