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Sunday, December 24, 2006
Panama City was the Wild West

In the Pedro Miguel Lock, we heaved our 100 foot hawsers to the Canal crew who are experts at throwing the monkey’s fist up to a large ship’s bow. In front of us were two deep sea pleasure boats called the Hooker and the Madam….the guys waited in vain for the namesakes to appear on deck.

After Pedro Miguel we sped off at nine knots to make the next opening at the Miraflores Locks. We planned to top off our fresh vegetables and purchase new eggs, since the ones we bought in New Orleans went bad in the Caribbean. Also we needed some hardware for the galley refer as well as extra nuts and bolts to finish the deck checkers. So far the refer was keeping cool with blue ice which I transferred twice a day from the deck freezer. We anchored at Balboa where there is a launch service to shore and we could hail a cab.

First order of business was the ground rules of shopping in Panama City. The taxi driver is your guide, security guard, and translator. He stored our purchases in the trunk while we shopped at the next stop.We bought out the hardware store and then toured the area where Noriega battled the U.S. marines. Bullet holes riddled the building facades. The real shocker was the armed guards in the grocery store. As you turned up a new isle looking for oranges, a menacing military guard lifts up his AK-47. Too much thievery in Panama made shopping for food a hazardous undertaking.

The taxi driver had lived under many regimes…..all corrupt he said. He delivered us back to the boat in one piece and we stowed our purchases in preparation to clear customs and get out of dodge. It would be our last sniff of land for a while. The sunset was short and brilliant.

We would pull anchor and leave for Easter Island on the morning tide, a trip of 1900 miles over sea. There was not enough time to stop at the Galapagos Islands which are 800 miles southwest of Panama. I had sailed there on my 33 foot Atkins designed cutter in 1972, and found that they were indeed the "Enchanted Isles". Two sailboats sank as the result of whale rammings that year. We shared a few supplies with the Kiwi who survived the first catastrophe during which the ship's papers and his passport were lost. He was shipwrecked and destitute but willing to share a Pilsner and his story to our incredulous ears. The other whale (orca) ramming was unknown to us until a year later. The Lucette sank in minutes stranding the family of six who survived 38 days drifting in a dingy with little food or fresh water. The skipper/father wrote a novel Survive the Savage Sea which was later made into a movie of the same name. Sobering for us sailboaters about to embark across the same Pacific Ocean for parts West.
On our 72 foot steel tuna troller, Papa George, we felt well prepared for the journey to Easter Island. Steve and I were communicating with a ham radio operator on Pitcairn Island (Brian Young, VP6BX) three times a week on a schedule, and already several other hams listened to our QSO's (chats). Just for the record, Steve was K7WQD and I was N7LHJ on the South Pacific tuna trolling expedition. We had a complete ham radio station aboard with the ability to transmit on many band widths. More about hamming at sea later.

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