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Yachting - August 2007

Written by Patricia Borns

Attention Pirate Shoppers! Check out the department stores where an MP3 player might cost $60 less than at home. Grazers, try the ceviche combinacion of octopus, clams, crab, calamari, scallops and shrimp at the Mercado de Mariscos on Balboa Ave. Provisioning chefs for superyachts, visit Ancon's Mercado De Abastos for a cornucopia of produce (fresh ginger root 25 cents a pound, local pineapples 50 cents each).

We were enjoying a Panamanian sunset and apple-caramel upside-down cake snack on Resolute's aft lounge when a voice crackled over the VHF, first in Spanish, then English: "Good to go: Out came the iPhones as we scrambled to update family and friends around the world so they could watch us on the canal's live web cam. When David called us to the bridge and took the wheel of his yacht for the first time, a full moon wasn't the only thing rising: our spirits (and blood sugars) soared.

Perhaps Richard Halliburton felt this rush when he swam the canal in the Roaring Twenties for thrills and a 36-cent toll. But even in our age of super projects like China's Three Gorges Dam, it was impressive that the world's eighth wonder could inspire the wonder I was feeling now.

A cheer went up as our first milestone, the Bridge of the Americas, passed overhead. Then the cavernous doors of Miraflores Lock opened. and under the floodlights' white blaze, 26 million gallons  began draining by force of gravity in giant green suctioning eddies, Pam snapped a photo of the moment and downloaded it straight to her daughter thousands of miles away:  an image of David at the yacht’s helm, grinning ear-to-ear like a kid. Gee whiz, indeed.

No one grinned however when our canal pilot Alexander looked at his watch; it was just past 11 p.m. "Maybe we won't finish tonight?" he suggested. At 51 miles long, the canal takes eight hours and three stages to lift a yacht 84 feet: an all-nighter for the crew, and our pilot.

"Oh yes, we'll finish," said Captain Steve Fossi with a touch of native Kiwi grit. "Think positive man. Think positive."

So gracefully we slid along, thinking positively, steadied by four locomotive "mules" on shore and 10 burly line handlers’ lore and alt that covered their work boots with dainty slippers like a ballerina's to keep from scuffing our teak decks. Coffeed  to a wired state, I was still awake when we entered Galliard Cut, named in honor 0f David Du Bose Galliard, who literally moved mountains slicing eight miles through the Continental Divide. Night blotted out the beautiful rainforest as we entered the stillness 0f Gatun Lake (formed by flooding the Chagres River Valley), but the last lock blazed more brightly than daylight in it series of three monumental chambers that dwarfed even the container ship ahead of us.

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