domenica 17 maggio 2015

CROSSING THE PANAMA CANAL








When we founded UZIWA nearly two years ago, I thought that it was the result of my comitment to surf and travelling. Making all the steps to let now the brand walk alone was not easy. Today, while with my girlfriend Alice we are sailing around the world, I’m proud to see that UZIWA is not only the “brand” of clothes I thought it was…it becomes a point of connection between surfers and travelers. Everywhere we go and always more often we meet other travelers and talk with people that are dreaming to travel all around the world with any sort of transportation, and better than anything else it is really helpful to share our experiences and give our contacts the chance to meet each other. We have people from Peru, Chile, Morocco, Ecuador asking where to go surfing.  Incredible things happen every day and we feel so lucky to have the chance to live a life avoiding that moment when in the morning you look to yourself in the mirror thinking that you are not what you would love to be. So when from far away we saw the entrance of the Panama Canal, something happened. It was like the conclusion of a first big step of our adventure, now we had to set everything up and be ready in a week time for the Big Pacific.  Practically it doesn’t change so much, sailing on this side or on the other is nearly the same, but there is something of being here that makes all of us feel like we are going to pass not only a “canal”, but a psychological barrier that for European people consists in going on the other side of the world and not “be able” to pull back. Trade winds, currents, weather and a voyager’s syndrome make all of us think that the only way to go is WEST. Shelter bay Marina is the only possible spot where to go with your boat while waiting for the Canal crossing. There are other Marinas like Turtle Cay or a new one in Linton Island  but far from the canal and not with the same services. Moreover, if you want to handle all the complex procedures to cross the canal you want an agent to follow all this horrible bureaucracy. What most people do here is using this place like garage for the boats. You’ll find here everything to repair your boat, from a French sailmaker to a Colombian-Panamanian plumber. Unfortunately, like every place in the Caribe (except some islands), you will have to supervise every job done on your boat because most of the workers here are people that understood that behind the boat there are lots of money and they will tell you they can repair everything, even if they don’t really know what they are doing. Personally I often trust some people that tell me – give me as much as you think is good for you and only if the job is done properly –
Luckily we don’t have so many repairs to do on the Lazy Jack ….ah ah ….I was joking !!!
By sailing every day we realize that newest model of boat are very, very different than the oldest ones. Also if we are on a top quality boat, also when we only change the oil of something, or clean the filter of the water maker, we easily realize like the boat makers are not the same of twenty years ago. We especially experience it while travelling with Luc, the owner of a Supermaramu who traveled with us so far from Bonaire. He spent all his life working for the big company Amel. He is that kind of person who starts from building a boat and arrives to build a knowledge of every single piece of the boats the company he works for makes and is extremely proud to be part of it. Obviously times change and now we all know how the world’s economic situation makes things a lot harder for the companies brave enough to try to stay into the boats market. So we accept the situation that when on board we use something, we have to be more careful than usual. During the week we spent in Shelter Bay Marina we had the chance to meet people from other boats, especially the ones that are participating to the Jimmy Cornell’s rally. Nearly everyone here is doing what we are going to do and everyone takes the overcrowded bus every morning to go to Colon looking for food and spare parts. It was like to live in a micro cosmos where someone melted together the essence of travelling with sailboats across the oceans. People from England, Scotland, Germany, South Africa, USA, Chile, France, Sweden and last but not least an incredible group of people from Holland. Not so many Italians and the ones we met are really the maximum expression of our actual situation. While the other boats are just spending their retirements travelling, we are struggling on the travel-charter world. But at least we never stop to find the way to do what we want.
11 trolleys full of food and beverages: we beat the supermarket’s bingo record! The manager was so excited after seeing the bill that he offered us free transportation to the boat, a few boxes of chocolate and 4 Bacardi mojito glasses. After this massive stock under the beds of Lazy Jack, we are now ready to push our floating house through the Canal.
It’s a fantastic day, Luc, Martine and Didier join us to help like line handlers. Very important thing to remember if you are thinking to make the pass, is to have at least 5 people on board, 4 line handlers and the Captain. If you have a boat smaller than 65ft, the organization of transport will provide you a supervisor to help the navigation. Over 65ft they will provide you a Captain to drive your boat through. 
The beautiful lunch on the bay was only the beginning of our little adventure. First of all, 30minutes before to go, we suddenly realize that Pau Hana, the 41ft boat from Montana who hit us in the San Blas, is one of the two mono-hull with whom we are going to make the nest. Fate or destiny, coincidences or life’s case,  it doesn’t really matter how we wanna call it. I saw the Captain’s shocked eyes looking straight into Martin’s ones and that was not so funny for Mr. Johnson I guess. We also talked during the crossing and I have to admit that he and his wife are super nice people. They also told us “We are heading to the same direction, so maybe one they we are going to be friend!”. That was so funny and tragic at same time.
 Like a giant we were driving into the canal with these two boats on our side and a big cargo in front of us. The power and the speed of the water that the human being built here to achieve this result are incredible. In less than three hours we were already sailing on the artificial Gatun Lake and looking for our designated anchorage in the dark. That was the moment when they made me jump on top of a boe to tide the rope and help the other boats. Not a problem if the boee was not one square meters wobbling piece of plastic into a crocodile’s infested lake!!!

The night was calm and not too hot. After dinner we had our chance to experience the quite lake Gatun with rock music coming from a motor yacht behind us. When the next day we went through the Miraflores, we could already smell the Pacific. After nearly 40 miles of navigation on the lake, we finally descended to the other side. Very different than the first one we had done. Here a lot of tourists come to see the boats passing, ferry companies overload their small boats and in half day they take people through the barrage for a couple of dollars.  We are finally sailing on the side of Panama City, passing under the Bridge of the Americas and exploring with our eyes the immensity of the skyline of one of the fastes growing city in the world. I don’t know what I thought to expect from this city, but if you come here, try to think that you’ll be in a place more like Dubai than a big old and dangerous city. Things changed a lot here I guess and the free taxation added to the strategic geographic position helped a lot this place to reach the explosion of modernity that is now shown to the world. Our plan is to stay here only a few days and leave after the week end, setting our sail to the Las Perlas Islands.