Cheeky Charlie

We met Charlie in Palma – blond hair, blue eyes and confident. He worked on another Oyster 575 called “Calliope” for Charles and Nicky Manby and because he shared the same name as the owner he was nick-named Charlie. He joined Miss Tiggy to assist James with skippering the boat – at 26 he had spent the majority of his life in boats of various sizes and shapes and has a great feel for sailing. He has been a real asset to have working alongside us – part of our “band of brothers”.

Charlie throws himself into everything and gives 120%. He has even become a passionate supporter of the Melbourne Demons without ever watching a game. He would scan the Internet every morning, where possible, and update James about injuries, best players and sing “It’s a Grand Old Flag” in full voice.  If there was ever need for encouragement about anything he would cry out “Go Dee’s”.

Energetic, cocky, fun, impatient, sensitive, musical – Charlie is a walking dichotomy between full steam ahead and sprawled on the couch watching a movie with great intensity. He loves to kite surf and listen to slow, melodic music. He is first to offer assistance if help is needed and will jump in the tender and take off at full throttle whenever the opportunity presents itself. 

No one was more taken aback when we were telephoned to say that Charlie was heading to hospital unable to breathe properly…then an hour later he was moved to Intensive Care. Thanks to Dobra, an Emergency Physician who happened to be sailing on the rally with us, and her insistence that the hospital perform a CT scan, Charlie will be OK. His scan uncovered a large blood clot in the upper part of his right thigh/groin area and another in his right lung with evidence that it had traversed through the right side of his heart. The question, once he has recovered, will be – how did this happen to a healthy and fit young man? 

For us it is a sad farewell to our new mate who wanted to traverse the Panama Canal and sail out into the Pacific Ocean with us – destination Australia. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope to see that face back on our boat some day!

Our 2 day transit through the Panana Canal is now complete and an absolute highlight so far!  There was much discussion pre transit as to how it would all work. The plan was to raft up 3 similar sized Oysters – the port and starbord yachts to control the lines and the central one to keep the nest on track. Meetings were had and tactics and additional crew put in place (you must have 4 crew plus the Skipper) and we were ready to go.

Our Transit Advisor, Oswald, came on to Miss Tiggy at 3.30 on Day 1 and once we were rafted up with Oyster 575s “Sophistikate” and “Tianelle” we completed the first 3 locks placing us approximately 25 metres above sea level and into Lake Gatun. At night in the Lake our flotilla of Oysters and an additional catamaran were once again rafted up (it is a very tightly controlled operation). Oswald was collected by a Pilot launch only to return at 7.00am the next morning to assist us in the completion of our transit – a 4 hour passage across the lake to the Guillard Cut and the final 3 locks. As the gates opened for the last time a huge cry went up – we had arrived in the Pacific!! Thanks to our hard working crew/rope handlers (Mike, Robert Van, Popeye) who saw us safely through the 30 miles of locks and lake!

Preparation for entering and cruising in the Galapagos has been intense. Understandably they have very strict rules and regulations to protect the wildlife and pristine waters of their island group so intensive cleaning of Miss Tiggy both inside and out as well as a haul out for a pressure hose off and 2 new coats of anti-fouling has been completed. A diver will complete a final check and a certificate will be issued as proof. Food is another thing and provisioning is difficult and restricted. No seeds or nuts, fruits and vegetables, limited cheese and dairy products, meat that has been vacuum sealed with a use by date from an authorised vendor (we are hoping that a supermarket chain will suffice for this) and so on – and to add to this complication, our freezer has decided to stop freezing! Ah!

James foot is nearly fully recovered – a few days in Panama City to have the freezer fixed, provision, collect Malcolm Bamford (from Melbourne) and begin our long passage across the Pacific via Galapagos, French Polynesia, Tonga, Fiji and NZ…

San Blas

This picture says a thousand words…..img_3723-4

The Guna are the  indigenous people of the San Blas islands and sailing into their stunning coral cays is jaw dropping. We were greeted by a pod of seriously large dolphins and then by the warm and friendly faces of the locals, happy to share their beautiful home with us. They are quick to greet us in their canoe boats to sell fish, lobster or the “molas” that they carefully design and embroider to make a few dollars from us the tourists…we must however, follow their strict rules – no scuba diving, fishing by either rod or spear, no removal of conch shells or photographing their people without authority, but we are willing to comply and grateful for this opportunity to share their space where we can BBQ on the beach and enjoy the serenity of their world.

The Tour Operator in James is alive and well as he organised with a local man, Eldafonso, to take a group of us on two interesting expeditions – one to visit another island and attend a ceremony for two girls who were making their life commitment to live the Guna way which coincided with the only day of the year that the women can drink and smoke. We were herded into the local community hall and encountered a large group of women of all ages, dressed in their national costume swigging out of bottles of rum and smoking baskets full of cigarettes! A bit like Friday night drinks with the girls…Our second adventure was a river cruise into a Panamanian rain forest – that was what we were led to believe! We headed up the river for about 500 metres before disembarking and following the river by foot up to a waterfall. Most of us were wearing flip-flops so it was a painful 3 hour return trip in difficult conditions. To add insult to injury James collected a couple of ticks that were only discovered 2 days later, one of which had buried itself into the back of his thigh and which required surgery with a kitchen knife to dig it out.


Our last days in the beautiful San Blas Islands we marred by cut feet. I was first after a beach walk and was quickly followed the next morning by James who has done a particularly good job of cutting into the pad of one foot right up into his toes –  he should have had stitches and due to the warm sea water and tropical climate, it became infected so we literally limped into Shelter Harbour (our last stop before the Panama Canal transit).  His foot has been heavily bandaged, a good dose of antibiotics prescribed and a crutch for support has him on the mend. Many thanks to both doctors who helped and Nurse Lindy (again) who has become a regular and much appreciated visitor to Miss T to mop up the crew!

The activity is frenetic around the marina as many sailboats call in here before or after the Canal transit. Last minute fixes, new parts to be ordered and provisioning is essential here to get us through to French Polynesia. Our closest supermarket is about an hour away in Colon which in not a safe place to go alone. There is a marina bus twice a day but if you miss that, which Mike and I did one day, you have to get a cab…I did feel very vulnerable I have to say.

A group of us decided to spend a weekend in Panama City – long showers, fast wifi, shopping, cocktails and fine dining were all on the agenda! We took the train from Colon to Panama along the original line and in a classic old carriage and headed to our hotel in the old part of the city.  The regeneration of this area is having a profound effect on the nature of the “old town” and it is very cool and fabulous to visit…the hotels, restaurants, roof top bars and music scene is helping to create a vibe that draw in many visitors both local and international. A local jazz band, led by one of Panama City’s most accomplished jazz divas, entertained us with a medley of songs in English and Spanish – some of the best live music we have ever heard…and there were only 40 people in the bar!!


Time is flying by and it is hard to believe that in a weeks time we will be in the Pacific Ocean! Thursday will be the start of our transit through the Panama Canal – a feeling of excitement and anticipation best describes the current mood of the fleet!