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Homeward Bound

On the way down Miraflores locks, Panama CanalCrossing the Caribbean from Montserrat to Panama was boisterous.  We arrived, dog-tired, at night and nearly made a disastrous error when, reading the scale of the chart wrongly, we sailed into the canal itself rather than to the recommended yacht anchorage at Colon.  The country was in more than its usual state of chaos: groups of muggers waited outside the cyclone fence of the yacht club for innocent yachties, the city garbage men had been on strike for three months, and all the banks were closed until further notice.  But we managed nevertheless to have ourselves officially measured and our canal dues assessed: less than $2 USD!   For practice, we served as line handlers on another yacht, then came our turn: up at dawn to welcome our pilot and our own three extra line handlers, and soon we were motoring out to the first set of locks. 

In a complicated Chinese fire-drill we rafted up to two other yachts for the upward transit through the first bank of three locks at Gatun.; as we were going up a cruise ship was coming down the parallel bank and the captain, who must have been looking at us through his binoculars, raised a cheer for Canada from the hundreds of passengers lining his rails.. Then a beautiful sail across the continental divide, and a night placidly at anchor before working our way down to the Pacific through the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks; in Pedro Miguel we had a large freighter directly astern of us, which added a degree of tension whenh he came to restart his engines and begin moving out.

 


Entering Gatun locks, Panama A cruise ship greets Tarka in the locks



Maria brings us dinnerBefore leaving Panama we spent some time in a group of little-visited islands to the west of Panama City.  Anchored off one of these, a launch came out and some men in uniform informed us that we were not to worry but a group of convicted killers had just escaped from the nearby prison island (he pointed it out), and could we keep an eye open?  That night we chained the dinghy to the boat; next morning it was still there but sadly deflated – there was a knife slash in one side.  Celebrating the circumnavigationLater we found a tranquil, well-protected bay inhabited by a single family at its head; they had nothing but they adopted us as honoured guests; Maria twice brought us fresh land crab and coached Jenny on how to cook them.

The passage to the NW and back to Mexico (1200nm) was painfully slow; we spent days becalmed and things were only enlivened when, after one such day, we threw a tin overboard and observed a large shark nose its way over to it from its station under the keel, then back again into the shade; only an hour before we had been swimming off the boat, and it had not occurred to us to look under the keel. From Acapulco it was (briefly) tempting to keep on plugging all the way up the coast to BC.  But we knew we would have head winds all the way.  So, out we went again, to the west.  After a week we crossed our outward track, from three years earlier. As far as we could tell from our calculations (remember, no GPS!) this occurred around 2 a.m. on a moonless night; we fired off a flare in celebration of the circumnavigation and next day broke out a bottle of cheap champagne that we had been saving since Venezuela.

 


Clarion Island, Revillagigedo group, MexicoA few days later made a memorable stop at wild Clarion Island, part of the Revillagigedo group.  The Mexican sailors stationed here received us royally, picking us up every morning in their inflatable and taking us to different parts of the island, where the bird life was abundant. A large saddleback pig would make its way in and out of the concrete shed in which the sailors lived: they were fattening hyer up for Mexico's national day but, said the sailors, it would be difficult to slaughter her as she was now “one of the team”.

 

The big island of Hawaii, three weeks further to the west, was also unexpectedly beautiful. At Hilo Polynesian dancers performed daily on the waterfront, to the strains of ukulele and guitar.. We rented a car to go exploring and were lucky in that Kilauea volcano was in eruption: we watched molten lava creep slowly across the blacktop of a National Park access road, then drip in great clouds of steam into the Pacific Ocean. As night fell you could see oozing rivers of red and orange making their way down from the crater, stopping and starting as they broke through one obstacle after another.


Polynesian dancers, Hilo, Hawaii Kilauea in eruption, Hawaii


We could not linger, though, as the northern summer was already well advanced.  It was 31 days back to Victoria, our longest passage of the entire circumnavigation.  For the first ten days we were hard on the wind: spray flew everywhere, the interior of poor Tarka creaked and banged: the beam supporting the mast sagged and we were unable to open or close the head door. Then, as we left the NE Trades, we had days of calm: a pair of Laysan's albatrosses that had been with us for days now sat on the glassy sea a few meters away, unable even to lift off and, from the lakes of garbage that eternally circulate here, we plucked some barnacle-encrusted glass fishing floats. We edged ever so slowly north.  The fog came in.  For days on end we sailed on blindly, occasionally hearing rumbling engines in the distance.  Then westeely zephyrs began to push us over towards North America; soon the zephyrs were near gale-force, the seas green and building.

Beating north to BC Laysan's albatross


Landfall at Bamfield, Vancouver IslandWe made our landfall at the quaint boardwalk village of Bamfield, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, previously visited on our round-the-island visit.  While we were away the Canadian loonie had come into being, fax machines and CDs had been invented, but the West Coast of BC was even more beautiful than ever.

A few days to catch our breath and we made the final run down the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Barely four miles out from Victoria, off Race Rocks, Jenny made ready to pull in the fishing line that we had trailed for nearly 36,000 miles – to disappointingly little effect: three tuna in nearly four years. To our amazement the line seemed heavy: wed hooked a fine 5kg salmon.

Two hours later, with all flags flying, we tied up in frront of the Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria

 



Success at last - off Race Rocks, Victoria Home; all flags flying at the Empress Hotel, Victoria



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