On Wednesday our Canal Admeasurer turned up at Shelter Bay and I help ed him to measure the boat from bow to stern. There's quite a lot at stake, as if it is more than 50 feet long there's another $1000 dollars transit fee to pay. So before he came we dropped the anchor over the bow, and took the dinghy round the side. His figure of 15.02 meters turned out to be quite a bit longer than the official length of 14.61 metres measured by the UK surveyor for the Registry, and I was really anxious that this would bump the price up. but in fact we scraped through with 0.18 metre to spare- about 8 inches. The protruding anchor is about 12 inches!
With that done I informed our agent to go ahead and book our transit for Tuesday 21st February if possible. Then various other things could be scheduled, and we proceeded with lift out a couple of hours later and TinTin was placed on the hard for antifouling. We will live aboard for a few days with a ladder to climb.
At 07:30 there is a radio net for cruisers announcing various activities and allowing people to ask for help with things. Mark announced that he would be available to help any boat through the canal, and got a ready acceptance from Chris on a 35foot boat, who also asked for three more people. So Steve, Justin and I all went along to meet him and our team will now be his requisite four line handlers on Friday and Saturday, leaving Emily to hold the fort and chill by the pool. All good experience before our own transit, now confirmed for Tuesday.
That evening we were all invited to a bring and share BBQ to celebrate someone's birthday, which was a good opportunity to meet people. I brought a bluetooth loudspeaker and added music to the event, playing rock n roll requests for the birthday boy.
It seems that all sorts of nationalities wash up here en route to the Pacific, and some of them end up staying to get things fixed, and then stay on longer and longer. So theres a little long term community running the activities, radio net, buses into town, and so on. We heard of people who had been here for two years, four years, seven years, living on their boats. A girl from Falmouth got out a guitar-ele and sang beautiful funky rap ballads. Someone else had brought a huge pile of chocolate cupcakes. We met Vasiliy and Nelly, who had sailed from Vladivostok, and were on their third circumnavigation, interested in the OVNI as their next boat. Bill and Jeanie were long term residents doing up a cheaply acquired trimaran, and great party organisers. so much so that the marina has hired them to organize the Oyster Rally party to a suitably high standard in the nearby fort.
Another couple have stayed long enough to set up a sail loft, where April uses her sailmaker skills to earn a living for a while. Their derelict building is emblazoned with graffiti of a huge multicoloured Dorado, and a boy playing with a toy yacht. I brought our spray paints and the stencil that Niall had made to put our mark on the building. It turns out that April & Keen encourage yachts to paint their signs there already, so we weren't vandals.
Later a lot of marina children arrived on their way to camp in a derelict church in the jungle, where they had hung hammocks for the night. The marina occupies just a few of the buildings built for a US base, most of which has now been swallowed by dense jungle.
I can see how easy it could be to arrive here, stay a little longer than intended and then find it difficult to leave the little friendly community, to head south into the unknown, from which there can be no return.