What to write? After the excitement and drama of the Panama Canal, the world has turned on its axis, flipped a couple of times and ground to a shuddering halt in the last few days. If you’re musing, “ah, to be on a boat in a far flung place, how liberating’, isn’t an accurate portrayal of how things are for us. Let me explain a little of our situation.

Good friends on a kiwi boat left Panama just over two weeks ago. Society was still functioning ‘normally’ at that point in time. We’d imagined following in their wake a week or so later.  However…..

Countries all around have closed their borders. French Polynesia, where we’d planned to sail to, 4000 miles away is struggling with CV cases, limited medical services and in some places, dwindling general supplies so boats arriving after 4 to 5 weeks at sea are severely restricted in their movements.  And not really wanted either. Anchorages are filling up as boats arrive and freedoms no longer exist as the authorities implement quarantine procedures then want boats to move on, but to where?

Panama is now in quarantine. Essential journeys for food or pharmacies are allowed for a couple of hours a day, depending on the last digit on your passport / identity card.

We are safely anchored off an island about 35 miles south of Panama City. The island is small, with maybe 125 residents. Many have already left to return to the city. We have direct contact with the island administrator and she is both helpful and informative. Plus she speaks great English making up for my flagrantly inadequate Spanish. We are unable to go ashore other than to collect pre ordered grocery runs or to get rid of our rubbish.

There are maybe 20 boats here covering a real mix of nationalities…..Dutch, Brazilian, South African, Australian, French, Brits, Austrian, Belgium. An informal catch up each morning on the vhf radio allows folk to share knowledge of developing situations, both near and far, and ask for any specific help.

Skipper Dave has been doing a sterling job coordinating this conversation. The upside is most of the boats here know us now which may prove helpful down the line. I can’t say he’s enjoying doing it but his efforts are valued. And they also feel necessary to help and inform our current shared situation. And no one else is fighting him for the job!


Today’s plan (may change tomorrow, or next week to next month) is to sit tight and see how the situation develops. Current options for travel are pretty limited. We are however provisioned up for a Pacific crossing so probably have enough food on board for several months.

And boy are we glad of that water maker. Thanks Doreen. 😀

Panama Canal – Part Two

Grace on the left of the raft

Make a mental note. It may only cost $0.25 cents for a bus journey in Panama City but don’t do it at going home time. A 20 minute ride home at 5.30pm turns into a crawling unpleasantness. So much so, that I’ve got the iPad out to fill the time and I’m starting tippy tappying Part Two of our Canal Transit.

So here we go….

Spencer slept in the cockpit and around 5am he dived down into the cabin as it had started to rain. Dave got up to close the hatches and my guess is everyone laid awake till it was time to get up around 6. The rain didn’t last long and soon the heat of the day started to build.

The pilot was due at 7am and Dave needed time for at least two cups of black coffee to be almost fully functioning and on the ball. Jorge arrived and hopped on around 7.15am, lines were dropped from the mooring buoy and we were off.

The first part of the day was motoring through the Gatun Lake. My main objective was to spot a crocodile. Melanie made a massive fruit salad and we settled down for chats, more tea and an easy start to the second day of transit with no immediate locks.

The lake is surrounded by rain forest. In fact the Smithsonian have a research centre just off the main channel. Container ships passed us at regular intervals till we reached a section called The Cut. Jorge advised us we needed to hang out on a mooring ball for around an hour as there is only space for one vessel at a time in this section.

Not content with manoeuvring Grace, looking after the crew and working with the pilot, Dave then disappeared down below to appear with plates of scrambled eggs and guacamole for everyone. We weren’t going to starve on this two day trip.

“There. By the two birds. Crocodile”. Bingo. Objective met. It was just hanging out. Partly beached. Partly in the water. The birds sat motionless in a teasing fashion, what looked like about a metre from the closed jaws. Perhaps not worth the effort of a little snap. That was me happy.

Then it was back to the serious business of descending the final three locks and exiting into the Pacific. Once again the plan was to nest the catamaran and two monohull together to make a raft. Thankfully Mrs Splosh wasn’t anywhere to be seen on the back of the catamaran.

This time, the raft was a much tighter unit. That was helpful. We needed to get into the lock and moored up before our ship arrived. Going up the locks, the big ship goes in first. Going down, the ship goes in second.

On day one, the wind had been on Grace’s side. It was tres important we got our lines on quick and tight before the wind could potentially push the whole raft across the lock towards the far lock wall. Today, the wind was on the side of the other yacht so they would have this responsibility. We were the more vulnerable boat.

As with day one, it was a learning experience. It wasn’t totally seamless but neither was it catastrophic. The wind did catch the raft and the even with engine running on the catamaran, we were blown at an angle towards the wall.

Spencer had tied a fender to the bowsprit in anticipation of perhaps needing one and I hurriedly got Melanie to take our line. A few quick paces and I was on the bow sprit with my roving fender and was able to squeeze it between the stainless steel guard rails and the jagged concrete wall. We ended up with a PCK, a Panama Canal Kiss on the very end of the wooden bowsprit. A small 3” burr etched on the wood but thankfully nothing was bent, no lights were broken proving a little foresight is a cost saving endeavour. There was little to do but react. A guy on the catamaran quietly said to me “well done”. I appreciated that.

That was the first of the three locks. After that it was straightforward. The last lock on the Miraflores side has a live webcam and several friends and family saw us pretty much perfectly execute the final lock. It was a bit of a shock to look up and see a whole gallery of people at the visitor’s centre stood watching. Not a time to stuff up!

And that was it, the final lock gates opened and we shot out into the Pacific. The fresh water in the lock travels quickly across the heavier lower salty sea water coming in meaning a fast exit.

We motored a couple of miles under the Bridge of the Americas and down to the anchorage at La Playita. The anchor wouldn’t set immediately and the windlass tripped but it didn’t matter. We were safely through.




Canal – part one


Part One. It’s a bit longer than normal. Stay with it!

As the great Dr Seuss poets….

Be your name Baxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting
So…..get on your way!

Our mountain was six locks and a lake between two oceans. A heady mix of trepidation and excitement floated around Grace for the two days before our Panama transit. We purloined an extra line, a few more fenders and three crew to help. Regulations dictated we needed to be a minimum of four line handlers plus Skipper Dave.

Our tiptop crew were Spencer, Diego and Melanie. Diego and Melanie came as a unit. They hadn’t done much boating but were great listeners and quick learners. Ideal. Plus they built their house in Mexico out of bamboo. They shared photos of the geodesic structure which filled us with awe. It was truely stunning. Grand Design’s Kevin, you need a trip to Mexico.

Spencer is from near Hull, our original starting point so we had an immediate connection sharing stories of Hull boozers. In his early twenties, he’s the 3rd officer on humongous ships moving Liquid Petroleum Gas around the world. He’d been through the canal before but on something a tad larger than Grace. This would be a new experience for him too.

That’s the crew covered off. We’d have two more people on board during the transit, Eduardo on day 1 and Jorge on day 2. Each boat has an Panama Canal advisor / pilot on board who knows the canal, the locks and the planned schedule of all ships, big or small, transiting that day. They keep in touch with ‘Control’ by radio so are informed immediately of any problems, delays or changes to the schedule.

The monster ships get priority. You don’t really want to play chicken with a several thousand ton vessel. We sailing boats are tied (not literally) to a particular ship transmitting in the same direction. Our timings would be dictated by their schedule. Our ship on day one was delayed meaning we didn’t start to enter the first of the three up locks till 7pm. We’d been ready since our original start time of 2pm. Both Eduardo and Jorge independently described the schedule as fluid and constantly flexing. Yes, they were right.

Boaters are offered a choice of how they’d like to transit as part of the necessary paperwork completed beforehand.  Options for the locks are:-

  1. A) Against the lock wall. Not at all recommended as it’s rough concrete
  2. B) Tied to a tug. Maybe alright but some tugs have tyre fenders attached with chain. Again, not so pleasant on your varnish or paintwork
  3. C) Single chamber. By yourself with four lines, one in each corner of your boat taken up to the lock bollards
  4. D) Nested. Two or three boats tied together in a raft. This is what we experienced.

Our nest consisted of a catamaran in the middle with Grace on the right (starboard side) and another sail boat on the left (port side). It wasn’t the most confidence inspiring start.

As we were rafting up, a woman crew member stood on the lower bathing platform at the back of the catamaran pulled a rope that had a heap of slack in it and disappeared overboard into the drink. Sh*t. Luckily she was still holding onto the rope so was able to get pulled back in pretty quickly. It was getting dark and the three boats were tied together. It wouldn’t have been a quick easy manoeuvre to turn round and pick her up. At the least the crocodiles weren’t biting!

Dave and I saw this situation play out, out of the corner of our eyes and both of us knew she was going to end up overboard. It almost happened in slow motion. In She wasn’t the most situationally aware individual at that moment in time. And as the catamaran was going to be the main manoeuvring vessel for the raft, its crew didn’t inspire immediate confidence.

Ah well, onwards and upwards. Literally and figuratively. Into the first lock we go centrally behind our massive ship. The upwards part would gain us about 85 feet or 26 meters of height across the three locks, so a height lift of around 8 or 9 meters per lock. We’d exit the third lock into the fresh water Gatun Lake.

So a quick description of how it all worked. Two line-handlers on each lock side throw down a light line with a monkey’s fist knot, about the size of a tennis ball in the end to provide weight and help with throwing accuracy. You wouldn’t want to be hit on the head by this. It was pretty solid and chunky. And the paperwork involved would be excessive.

One line went to the front of Grace, the other to back. The same happening concurrently on the other side of our raft. We then attached our 125 feet dock lines with a bowline tied in the end, to their light line and the dock line handlers pulled these up as they were walking along the top of the lock. When we were in position the bowline was dropped over a bollard and us crew pulled in tight to secure the nest of boats in the lock.

A few moments passed as the lock gates closed behind us, then water entered the bottom of the lock and up we started, At first it was pretty smooth but as the lock filled, the turbulence increased with weird patterns and swirls. This would not be somewhere to step off the back of your catamaran. Take note lady.

As the raft rose, we crew took in the lines to keep the raft square in the lock.  Melanie and I worked together at the back of the boat while Spencer and Diego were at the front. It was reasonably heavy work but we girlies were up to the challenge.

When the lock was full and the water pressure equalised, the lock gates opened and the catamaran motored the raft with its twin engines to the next lock. The line-handlers picked up the bowlines and dropped them into the water with the light lines still attached. We hauled them in quickly till all of our dock lines were back on the boat. The line handlers walked forward to the next position holding the light lines, looking like they were taking a dog (yacht) for a walk.

And so the pattern continued till the third lock gates opened and we exited into the aforementioned freshwater Gatun Lake. A swift 10 minute motor saw us moor to a massive buoy at 10.15pm. Eduardo departed, while we demolished dinner and a beer each. We were knackered. It’d been a long, slightly nervous but fun and enjoyable day.

Our next pilot would be with us at 7am. Time to sleep and prepare for day two.

Instalment two will be winging its electronic way to you soon. When I write it. 😀


South America

It appears the prerequisites of training in the military here in Shelter Bay, Panama are….

  • The ability to play a trumpet / bugle with gusto at all hours of the day and night
  • To be able to respond loudly in unison to orders
  • Sing with a similarly loud shouty voice what sound like patriotic songs


Of course, this may indeed be exactly the same as the British or Polish or Nigerian, etc, etc, as I know very little, nay nothing, about military training. I thought the military were supposed to sneak up quietly and surprise the enemy. Isn’t that what camouflage clothing is designed for? Sneaking with a bugle seems a little contradictory.


I tuned into the military soundtrack as we’re anchored off a training establishment waiting for our transit date through the canal. The Pacific is but 36 miles away.


Which means Jamaica is a memory after five mostly uneventful days at sea, apart from the flaky autopilot which flaked again.  No crumbliest, flakiest chocolate, just shouting in the middle of the night to raise the sleeping crew then 30 frantic minutes to diagnose, plan, act then breathe.


Most folk use an agent to aid and oil the paperwork and associated necessities of getting a transit. We are part way through the process but have chosen to sort things ourselves. The spondoolies will stay in our pockets for a little work ourselves.


Grace has been measured, we wait for our payment to land in the predetermined bank account and then we get a day and time. Well days actually. South bound transits depart mid afternoon. The protocol seems to be go through the first set of locks, tie to a mooring ball in the Gatun Lakes then complete the journey the following day, through the second set of locks, under the Bridge of the Americas and officially into the Pacific.


Colon is the land of big ships, of which there are many. Dave has actually gone through the canal as  a line handler the last couple of days on a friend’s catamaran …(a) to help out someone else and (b) to see what it’s like before going through ourselves. I stayed back to get Grace officially  measured and to fill in some paperwork.






We have turned our satellite phone back on which means that the tracking page on this website is working again. You can easily stalk us, should you choose, as we    make progress through the canal, out into the Pacific and west towards New Zealand, our original aspiration when we set off from the UK back in June 2016. The red dot 🔴is a slow mover. It’ll likely take us 25 to 30 days to get from Panama to the Marquesas Archipelago. But more of that later. Stand by.