Header image: Henri Lloyd in St Katharine Docks before the race start


We arrived in Panama early – to be fed the customary beer for breakfast – and told that we would be transiting the Canal early the next day. The 12 boats were divided into three groups. We would be part of the first group of six to be followed by two groups of three on the next two days.

Hotel bookings were rapidly cancelled and changed, then, as ever it was lunchtime before we could explore when places were open. Ice cream then lunch were eaten in the marina – both places chosen as they had wi-fi. So for me a brownie ice cream then steak and Caesar salad with red wine then chocolate ice cream.

We saw very little of this side of the Panama canal, opting for a walking visit to the Old Town. It would have been good to spend more time there but we were on a Clipper schedule. We went our separate ways for the evening, Maaike out with friends from another boat, Sarah to her hotel and me back to the marina to hopefully see Peter. However it wasn’t to be. They arrived after we had left the next day.

An early start the next day – be at the boat at five am – meant that we had time to do a drive by of the three tall ships anchored in the bay. They were Esmeralda, Simon Bolivar and Cuauatemoc. I have been on board the latter, as part of the Tall Ships Race in 1999. I wondered if the rather attractive Mexican Naval officer who showed me around then was still on board. Probably not.

The canal itself was amazing. We were there in the one hundredth anniversary of it being built, and it is being expanded. Several of the vessels that transit the canal regularly are built to a few inches of its exact dimensions. Each vessel that passes through takes on board a pilot. Ours when he eventually came was called Elliott. He was very talkative and a great guide. He was instrumental in getting us through both sets of locks on the same day, otherwise we would have had to anchor overnight. The three Miraflores locks take you up when going from the Pacific to the Atlantic. It is actually south to north more than west to east. Then you pass through a lake. The jungle comes right to the edges of the lake so on one hand you have boats, buoys and other marine things around you, then you look up and it is all right in the middle of a vibrant green jungle. The Gatun locks are the locks that take you down on the other side of the lake. The tall ships were just ahead of us in these locks. Three Clipper vessels were rafted up side-by-side to go through each of the sets of locks.

After dropping off Elliott, Eric put his foot down and motored straight to Shelter Bay Marina. Just like that, we were in the Caribbean!

Most of us had a booking at the Hotel Melia, a half hour drive away and scarpered as soon as we could, as we knew that there would be huge call on taxis once the other boats arrived. The hotel was in the middle of nowhere and was on the outskirts of Colon. We had been advised against going to Colon, so didn’t. I spent the days at the marina either working on the boat or meeting friends from other boats. I did get to see some land crabs before we left.

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