Sunday, April 13, 2014

Panama Canal

Hello friends. I think it appropriate to begin this narrative with a photo that was taken from our balcony during the early morning hours of April 10th. Together with the Queen Victoria, in the distance you can see several freighters and container ships waiting to take their positions in the queue in order to begin our transit through the Panama Canal.
As I see it, the Panama Canal is the result of a saga of human ingenuity and courage. It boggles my mind that the mere idea of building a route that would join the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was ever conceived let alone achieved. It’s pretty much a maritime shortcut spanning 80 kilometers across the Continental Divide, and you pretty much have to see it to believe it.
Here in the early morning haze you see Panama City in the distance as Queen Victoria entered Panama Bay leaving what has been our home since March 5th, the mighty Pacific. It is here that we entered the first 3 of 6 locks, known as the miraflores locks.

The bridge of The Americas
The container ship ahead of us was loaded with vehicles, and I’m not sure if you can see it in the photo but she is listing to the right. Apparently, as it entered the extremely tight surrounds of the first lock, she hit the wall or massive steel door and actually started to take on water.
We were supposed to enter the same side after it moved out, but were told to take the empty one on the left instead.  I do have some good news though, the crew were actually able to repair it and she was allowed to continue through therefore leaving us in our original position in the queue.
This photo shows you how the tugs provide much need protection for all ships transiting the canal in order to prevent them from drifting into the banks or other ships.
This ship just so happens to be the Maersk Claire, Maersk being the Panama Canal’s biggest customer!

Here she is seen entering the lock beside where Queen Victoria will eventually be.

For all you bird enthusiasts such as myself, the canal is a bird watchers paradise. Many species, of land and sea birds can been seen, both native and migratory. We did our best to photograph the ones we don’t see every day, such as frigates, tropicbirds, egrets to pelicans.

Here are a few photos to give you a view of the canal as we saw it…
I know that most understand how the lock system works, but this operation is the big league for sure!
We basically locked up 26 metres from the Pacific and down at the Gatun Locks to the Atlantic/Caribbean Sea.
I still find myself in awe of how two huge ships can pass each other in this relatively narrow canal, especially on some of the bends without colliding with each other.


This fellow just so happens to be the best bar waiter on the ship hands down! Dayand (pronounced die-and) who hails from  Mauritius so I can remember is smiling face and bubbly disposition.

Two friendly train operators

Some of the scenery along the canal

Gatun Lake
26 metres above sea level and fed by Chagres River
Notice that it is much clearer than the canal.

This is a picture taken from the bow of the ship looking toward Gatun Locks, our last fleet lock that will lead us to the Caribbean Sea. Here you can see some of the crew enjoying the view from their deck.

Miraflores Locks lifted us the 26 metres using one double fleet and a separate single lock whereas Gatun Lock had us down the 26 metres in one single fleet lock.
We had some company on the other side

Yikes, can you imagine what it must have felt like to the people in the little sailboat that is rafted off to the bigger charter yacht when this big fella came in behind them?

At the end of the day it took us about 10 hours to transit the canal from coast to coast or start to finish. Normally it takes about 8, but because of the listing car carrier we were delayed.
The sun was shining, and we were blessed with a breezy passage. The thermometer registered 94 degrees Fahrenheit and a cold beverage was always within reach. So I will leave you with this one last photo of the sunset we enjoyed as we exited the canal and began the last week of our adventure in the Caribbean Sea.
Whilst in the Caribbean we will be visiting two more ports, Aruba and Grand Cayman along with enjoy two more sea days before we end our adventure in Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale on April 16th.

Rick, wee Shaemus and I all hope you have enjoyed our adventure and lived vicariously through both photography and narrative.
We take home many wonderful memories, and have made some new friends. We are looking forward to returning home to see those of you we left behind many days ago also.
Thanks for joining us, we’ll see you soon.
Love Rick, Sandra and wee Shaemus xo

Friday, April 11, 2014

Costa Rica

Hello again friends and faithful followers!
Well we made it to Puntarenas, Costa Rica after spending six days at sea since our last port of call of San Francisco.
Although there was a brief moment when we thought we were going to be one of those cruise ships that you hear about on the evening news hour.
On the day before we arrived, just prior to the early dinner sitting, ole Queen Victoria found herself dead in the water.  Yup, adrift the vast Pacific ocean in 90 degree heat for just about one half hour!!! Thankfully things were rectified and we found ourselves moving along as planned.
The weather and seas have been absolutely perfect, with cloudless skies and the smoothest seas I’ve ever encountered on any cruise to date.
Before I get into all the fun that was had during our stay in Puntarenas, I just want to share some spectacular photographs Rick has taken of the wildlife we’ve encountered over the past six days. Most if not all were captured from our cabin balcony and include both the inhabitants from above and below the sea. Let me say though that to photograph a bird from the balcony of a pitching ship, either fish or fowl could be likened to doing the same whilst running on the spot! So my hat is tipped to my wonderful husband as he continues to sharpen his photography skills during our adventure aboard.
First up is the Masked Booby…These seabirds followed our ship for days along with its relative Brown Booby.
I consulted the ships library in order to learn more about boobies; the birdy boobies that is! Strangely enough though some of what I read didn’t make sense at all, such as the fact that they apparently don’t usually follow ships. These birds were in abundance and followed our ship for days; the masked Booby flying high above and diving for fish on occasion, whereas the brown hovered just above the sea grabbing flying fish in flight.
Of course a day never went by without a daily aquatic show from our most favourite marine mammal in the world, the Dolphin!
We’ve enjoyed regular sightings of schools of dolphins since we embarked on this adventure, but there should also be honourable mention made to the other sea life encounters we have enjoyed, such as the occasional whale and marlin.
If you stood looking straight down to the sea we found many green sea turtles caught in the ships wake as if swimming in a current pool, although lots would be found outside of it too. CostaRica_Turtle
There should be a photo contest on board because Rick would have surely won the grand prize with this photo of a swordfish jumping out of the deep blue sea! Right place Right time!
Below you will see Sandra with the local authorities, notice the bloke at the end…Well he just so happens to be one of the original“fun” people still on board from our original group. Chris and his wife Cindy, obviously not in the picture, hails for Southampton, England and just so happens to be a retired Homicide Detective. CostaRica_Policia
We were standing there waiting for a representative of Adventure Park Costa Rica to pick us up and take us to a resort and canopy tour adventure, aka Zip line adventure. Obviously I was not participating, but look who had the guts to… CostaRica_Me
The vehicle behind Rick took all the Zippers another half hour up into the mountains where their adventure commenced. Here are a few shots so you can grasp exactly what this tour involves, other than nerves of steel of course… CostaRica_Zip1
Of course, wee Shaemus possesses those nerves of steel too, after all he is Irish! CostaRica_Zip3

This particular zip line below was 1/4 of a mile long and disappeared into the canopy having not a clue to where it would end.
Below you will notice Rick in the next two pictures compliments of our friend Ken’s camera.
The tour consisted of 23 zip lines and 2 rappelling lines that crossed over many miles of the Costa Rican mountains, plus 11 waterfalls that adorn the ancient rain forests. The tour took about 3 hours finishing off with a traditional Costa Rican lunch back at the resort. Those not wishing to zip had the opportunity to use the facilities of a quaint little resort with a view of the valleys and mountains where everything started. Not to mention enjoying the sounds of birds and the occasional screaming zipper in the distance!
It was a perfect day for all that joined, and an early night in bed for most! So with that my friends I will end here as tomorrow we will be transiting the Panama Canal…actually we have done that already (yesterday), but I want to make a separate post. So stay tuned…
Love Rick, Sandra and wee Shaemus xo