About a year and a half ago, our friends on S/V Totem (check their website!) came for Thanksgiving. Behan and I had "met" while serving as admins together on the facebook group Women Who Sail, met in real life at the Annapolis Sailboat Show in October of 2016, and when it became clear that they'd still be in the US (and even in the relative geographical area to our landlocked Charlottesville) we invited them for Thanksgiving at our house.
Hanging out with cruisers is a joy. The vocabulary, the shared experiences, even the sense of flexibility in space-sharing and cooking together is something that is hard to translate. Behan and I have the kind of friendship that feels effortless in many ways. It's hard to believe we haven't known each other forever.
During that visit, we casually talked about their plans to go through the Panama Canal and joked about coming down to help them transit.
That joke solidified into something approaching a plan. We've purchased plane tickets, told work (and school) we are taking 10 days off in February to go through the canal with friends, and started assembling the stuff we need. Stuff like masks and snorkels, easy-to-dry towels, and all the goodies they might want us to bring down.
There's an old adage that cruisers and schedules don't mesh well. Trying to get somewhere on a schedule can mean making poor decisions, ignoring weather, or pushing past discomfort in ways that might not be safe. As cruisers (only TEMPORARILY land-bound), we get that, of course - it's far easier for us to be flexible than it is for them.
This may read as weird, if you're not a cruiser reading this. It's easier for a job-and-school constrained person to be flexible? How? Last I checked my boss was not exactly hot on me saying, "Hey, I'll take vacation next week. Or it might be tomorrow. Or maybe in a couple of weeks. That's cool, right?"
Cruisers moving their boats, though, are moving their homes. A move that on paper is "only" 20 miles away might take a week of waiting for the right wind, current, waves. As a land-based traveler, a change might be an inconvenience; for a sailor, a change might be disastrous.
Part of the extra challenge with a canal transit for a sailboat is that you're dependent on the canal authorities for everything, from getting measured to getting a transit time and even getting a (required) pilot on board the boat. There is just no way to say, "Hey, let's go through on xxxx date" and have it magically happen. This makes it tough if there is crew flying in, with the need to get airfare at a decent price but not knowing when the transit can happen.
The phone call came in on a January Saturday, about 2 weeks before we were supposed to fly down to help go through. The word from Totem was that the lag time between measuring and locking in (to start the transit) was running an average of 15 days, not the 7 days that's a traditional average. The weather was crap, making movement difficult and uncomfortable. If Totem was to move as quickly as they comfortably could, they'd get to the marina in Colon to be measured no sooner than the next Thursday, and with the 15 day lag time that put a transit right at the tail end of our existing flight schedule.
So we had a choice. Change flights (which may or may not be possible). Or fly in on our already-booked schedule and figure out getting to the Guna Yala (San Blas islands) where we can play with the Totems on board, in cool islands with amazing culture but miss a transit.
Both were options. Both required more planning than either of us had anticipated.
But this, when it comes down to it, is sort of a cruising reminder. Best laid plans need to be cast in sand on a tidal beach, with flexibility required for all involved.
Whichever we decided, the crews of Totem and Calypso were together again soon, this time in Panama. Keep reading!