Westward Ho'Okele: Dispatch 4
By Peter Swanson
COLON, PANAMA, Dec. 14, 2002-The place is named after the Great Navigator himself, though I can't imagine that Christopher Columbus would be proud of Colon, Panama. To us, it seemed wrong that such a shabby city would be one of the bookends to the great Panama Canal, but more on that later. In our last installment, Ho'Okele was at anchor in the quarantine anchorage for small boats about 11/2 miles from breakwaters. After the admeasurer from the Canal Authority visited, filled out our transit paperwork and took some perfunctory dimensions, Jim Cole and I received permission to move Ho'Okele from the anchorage onto the docks of the Panama Canal Yacht Club to await transit. We were met at the docks by Hawaii businessman Mark Heilbron, Ho'Okele's owner, come to Panama for the glory run through the canal, and perhaps a bit of trolling for pelagics on the Pacific side. Mark's quick to laugh, and his enthusiasm re-energized us.
The yacht club itself was a friendly place, if a bit shopworn, but it had a bar, a serviceable restaurant and diesel fuel for $1.50 a gallon. The docks were inhabited by a mixture of locals, gringo cruisers of the mom and pop variety, and a motley assembly of half-wild cats in charge of rodent control. Speaking of rodents, Ho'Okele was rafted against a 100-foot motor yacht on delivery from the West Coast to Florida. On this unhappy ship-full of personality conflicts, mysterious damaging electrical problems, bad haircuts and rumors of illicit cargo-the rats walked upright. I couldn't wait to move to the fuel dock for fear their bad karma would rub off on Ho'Okele. But then we met the antidote-the captain and crew of Continental Drifter II. The blue hulled, red flagged, 110-foot Cheoy Lee took up the length of the fuel dock, so to fill up we had to raft alongside her. Continental Drifter II, as it turned out, is Jimmy Buffett's boat and writing retreat. Himself, the peripatetic minstrel, was not aboard, but Kent Kohlberger, captain of this happy ship, and his able crew reflected well on their famous boss. We enjoyed making their acquaintance and later learned we would be rafted up with her again to pass through the locks.