News aboard Sol Surfin


April 07 Update

Hi there from Sol Surfin,

Gary and I are back in Costa Rican waters again. We are having a great time hanging out here and surfing Pavones and Cabo Matapalo in Gulfo Dulce on the Oso Peninsula. It is so beautiful and green right now that the rainy season is upon us. We are enjoying the people here and meeting many of the local experts who have made this area their home. The weather is comfortable and not too hot since the clouds are often covering the intense sun. We can hear the howler monkeys and red scarlet macaws in the trees. Life is good and as they say in Costa Rica “Pura Vida.”

We have spent the past few months enjoying the beautiful islands of Panama with crystal clear waters, lots of fish and abundant sea life and colorful coral formations. So far, these islands have been the most beautiful of our whole trip. They are very remote and secluded with limited access so they are pristine and full of life. How lucky we are to be able to visit and enjoy them.

We went all the way down to the Panama Canal and decided to turn around again. We were not ready to leave these waters just yet so we decided to spend the rest of our cruising season on the Pacific Ocean side. Panama City was quite an amazing place. This is one of the largest cities on the Pacific Coast bustling with lots of excitement and energy. There were over 190 boats in the anchorage alone. Most of the sailboats were either coming or going through the canal on their way to the Caribbean or the South Pacific. We met people from all over the world, the furthest being a couple who sailed their boat down from Iceland! Of course we enjoyed access to all stores included a Price Smart so I spent a day stocking up the boat with hard to get provisions. We also had 2 new aluminum propane tanks shipped in from Miami, as well as water maker parts which just coincidentally stopped working the week before. We got lots of needed work done to the boat while we enjoyed the sites. We got in and out in record time because after awhile the anchorage was uncomfortable with the freighter exhaust from the boats in transit thru the canal along with all the sugarcane burnings which after awhile can do a number on your lungs.


The canal itself was impressive. We went thru the canal assisting some friends of ours bring their beautiful custom built 65” wood sailboat through. Moonsong was her name and she has been sailed down from Alaska. In order to bring a boat through the canal you must have at least 4 line handlers on your boat along with the captain. Many cruisers assist each other as line handlers, Gary and I offered to help for the experience and adventure. It is best if you are thinking of bringing your boat through to help out with another boat to get experience for the transit. You are also assigned a canal authority advisor who directs your vessel thru the canal being sure that you make your lock times and stay on schedule. He is an “advisor” because he is not responsible for nada! Most people do not realize that it only takes one day to go through the canal. There are 6 locks total with 3 locks up locking from the Pacific side and 3 locks down locking from the Atlantic side. There are 26 miles of beautiful fresh water lake in between that you motor through to reach the other side. This area was once rolling hills but was flooded to make the canal. Most boats can get thru the canal in one day but sometimes it takes 2. You are able to anchor your boat in the lake at an assigned spot if needed.

We had a great passage but unfortunately at the next to last down lock, there was an accident which caused heavy damage to Moonsong. All was well until the boat we were side tided to T-boned our boat when the released from us. We were center tied with a sailboat on our Port and a tug boat on our starboard. The sailboat got caught in the currents in the lock and the howling wind coming from the Atlantic and they were unable to move forward without pushing us on the way out. Simultaneously we released from the tug boat the momentum of being pushed by the other sailboat and then the prop wash of the tug boat as they took off sent us into a spin where we ended up facing backwards inside the lock. The towering walls above us and a huge magnificent freighter looming down behind us was a very scary site. I was in shock for a few split seconds hardly believing that we were now facing the wrong way inside the canal and staring up bow to bow with a massage freighter ship. The captain of the sailboat did his best to turn Moonsong around but there was not enough room for him to maneuver. The canal workers on top of the walls were throwing down “monkey fist” lines so we could tie our lines to them in order to assist turning us around. You have to imagine that these lines are 300 feet long attached to a baseball size rock at the end. The rocks are needed to weigh down the lines so that once they throw them there is enough momentum to reach us in the center of the lock. If one of these rocks were to hit you, you would be seriously hurt not to mention a lot of potential damage to the boat. So monkey fists were flying down at us all at once, with most of them getting caught in the sails and the crossbeams. A few times we would fish them out of the waters and then frantically tie our lines to theirs. They would then pull up the lines to the top and attach them to the bollards on the walls above. At one point we were attached both bow and stern perpendicular in the canal to hold us still so the current would not push us into the freighter or the canal walls. Meanwhile, lots of screaming and yelling were going on in English and Spanish so it was hard to for everyone to understand the commands. Our canal advisor on board was equally stunned and overwhelmed by all the chaos.



After we finally got enough momentum to turn the vessel around, the captain called for all lines to be released from the bollards on top. The bow line was thrown down to us but the stern line for some reason was not released. After a few seconds or yelling for the line to be released it pulled taught and there was not enough slack or time to remove it from the wench. Going at the speed of about 4 knots the boat could not be stopped. It was a terrible site as the ¾ inch line pulled tight and sent ripping sounds echoing off the canal walls. The force of the line ripped out 2 heavy duty bronze wenches that were set into a 4 foot steel plate that was screwed into a wood beam with 10 inch screws. Then, the jerking motion pulled the boat backwards and to then to the side sending the front bowsprit crashing into the wall. Thank god with fast hands they were able to grab the plate with the wenches before they sunk into the canal. Needless to say, we limped out of the lock stunned and silenced while the damage on the sailboat was surveyed. We still had one more lock to go. Once thru, we dropped anchor in Colon and waited for the Canal Captain to come aboard the boat and survey the damage. Of course, he said there was nothing that the canal would do for us since all transiting vessels are required to sign a hold harmless release before they enter the canal. The truth be told, the Panama Canal is not meant for wood and fiberglass boats transiting through. After this experience, we decided that it was best that we don’t bring Sol Surfin through the canal just yet. And if we ever decided to do it, we would cover her hulls with tires so that not one square inch of fiberglass was showing. I would also be sure that each line handler had a razor sharp knife on him or her in case the lines needed to be cut in an emergency. As we witnessed, there are just too many things that can go wrong.

So after this harried experience we decided to stay on the Pacific coast and head on back to Costa Rica. We really loved both Panama and Costa Rica so spending a few more months here was not a difficult decision to make.

We will leave our boat at a beautiful new marina in Nicaragua called Puesta del Sol. There is an amazing surf break right in front and 2 beautiful pools and restaurant. There is a dock with internet, fresh water and electricity. We will leave Sol Surfin there for the rainy season while we come home to San Diego for the summer.

So that is the latest plan set in Jell-O.

We hope that you are well and we will keep in touch soon.

Celeste and Gary