How relieved we are when our fourteen-day-quarantine at anchor outside Shelter Bay Marina in Colon, Panama is finally over! We enjoy walks in the tropic rainforest with all its amazing trees, birds, and monkeys - the marina even has a resident four meter long crocodile. No swimming!
We meet a lot of new cruisers and have many dock conversations. These often start with: So, what are your plans? Um, going to the bathroom and then having an afternoon nap!? An answer venturing any further into the future is rendered especially absurd when the whole country you are in is in total lockdown. Women and men are only allowed out of the house for two hours every other day. The time slot is determined by the last digit in your passport. Children must stay at home at all times! Weekends and nights are under strict curfew for everybody and there is a ban on alcohol sales.
Despite this, the marina community turns out to be something of a bubble as there is no direct contact to the outside world due to its remote location. The marina manager does an excellent job at keeping everybody happy and in line. We enjoy quite a bit of freedom and can go for walks, stroll on the beach, and meet with other cruisers maintaining the rules for social distancing. As time wears on, we even have a few dockside parties, tattoo sessions (not me!), and a ratatouille cooking contest!
After relaxing for some days, I finally start to tackle my long list of boat chores. It starts out rather innocently with making a new wood box for the engine starter battery to be mounted on the bullwark in the aft cabin. Then we do some maintenance on the engine and the generator. The amount of sweat I lose in the engine room would make any sauna goer proud!
Next, I start replacing teak plugs where screws are showing in the deck. As I am down on my four I can see spots where the caulking is failing, possibly allowing for water to seep into the deck. Not good. After digging out old caulking and patching some seams with new caulking they and the wood in between need sanding to smooth out unevenness. This turns into a huge job totalling over 100 hours of work! Now the deck looks amazing and is so smooth to walk on, almost too smooth…
All the while I am monitoring the situation in the South Pacific as all the groups of islands have been locked down due to the pandemic for an indefinite amount of time. It is hard to get fact based first hand information. With hardly any cases first signs of opening up within each archipelago appear. After much back and forth I decide to continue my sailing trip this year and venture into the Pacific as possible. Firstly, this means hauling the boat out for a week of intense work on necessary maintenance. Repainting the antifoul bottom paint, cleaning and servicing the propeller, polishing and sealing the hull, cleaning the chain and anchor locker - to name a few. At the same time, I am having a new Bimini (sun cover for the cockpit) and extension sewed, the Genoa is getting repaired, and my curtains in the cabin are fixed.
I team up with two other boats to cross the Panama Canal as a raft. 28 May is confirmed by the Panama Canal Authority as our transit date. All of a sudden, we have a date. What a strange experience to have a definitive deadline after being in limbo for so long!
Getting back into cruising mode always takes some time after staying in a place for a while. This is especially so now, as I have been in Shelter Bay Marina for more than two months and have come to know many friendly, helpful and kind people with a similar way of life stuck in a similar situation. Saying goodbye to them all does not come easy!
Time to pause - In the marina we erected a kind of monument of this special time together acknowledging the fact that we are all affected by this and can help each other. Realising how much pain, anguish, and death this pandemic is causing worldwide I cannot help but wonder what the effects of this forced pause on humanity might cause. Other than the grave health related, social, or economic consequences this does and will undoubtedly incur there could also be inestimable benefits. Everyone is forced to consider his or her own lives opening new ways for action. Openly acknowledging what we as a human race are doing to ourselves, our fellows, animals and nature in general might be painful at first. But change can happen quite suddenly and in positive ways.