On the Rails

Our priority after leaving the canal was to get the propeller fixed so that we could go backwards as well as forwards. But, as there are limited options around Panama City for a lift out, our choice was between the 21st-century travel lift at the luxury Flamenco Marina (it’s all relative), or the 19th-century rails at the Balboa yacht club. And after getting quotes from each, the decision was easy.

The trip to the rails at Balboa Yacht Club was another test of nerve. No reverse gear meant no room for error. And with a concrete jetty to one side and a pier to the other, we motored to the rails as slow as possible, but fast enough to maintain steering. As we got closer to shore, we could see the outline of the cradle to hold Lady Jane already in the water. And as we got closer still, we could see six men on it waiting to catch our lines and fend us off.

Into the cradle

The wind was blowing from a particularly unhelpful angle on our port beam. So, getting Lady Jane into the cradle was more art than science. Fortunately, we got her bow in, and with a quick burst ahead (there wasn’t going to be one in reverse) we made it. The guys on the rails tied Lady Jane so that she sat in the middle. And when Tito (the yard boss) was happy, he started to winch the cradle up the rails and out of the water with Lady Jane sat perfectly upright.

The Balboa Yacht Club rails is an impressive operation. Tito has been doing this for over 40 years having learned, and subsequently taken over, from his grandfather who started this business. I don’t know for sure how old the rails and the cradle are, but I would hazard a guess that they haven’t changed for as long as Tito has been around. Still, as the cliché goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That said, one of the wheels fell off a few days before we went on the rails – putting it out of action for a few days.

Balboa yacht club

Into the cradle

Balboa yacht club

Tied off

Spinning Around

Shortly after being hauled up the ramp, one of the guys brought a ladder so that we could climb down and get ashore. And soon after that, two of them started to clean the hull and topsides. When the tide was low enough to access the back of Lady Jane, I put a block of wood under the propeller blades so that I could undo the nut holding the prop on. And as I put pressure on the nut, the blades started to spin. That was a welcome surprise. I thought the prop was buggered. So I continued to work the blades back and forward until they became free and injected some more grease into the propeller boss. Then I continued to turn the blades by hand until they turned as freely as they did when new.

Why the prop seized is a mystery. Even the people at Darglow engineering, who make the propeller, have no idea. All I can assume is that the grease leached out the back of the prop where the anode was missing. The anode is firmly on this time. I’ve smothered the screws holding it on, with enough loctite to stop even Kylie Minogue from spinning around.

It’s the Radisson, Jim, but not as you know it

With a tremendous sense of relief, we got out of the way and headed to the nearby Radisson hotel, where I had booked a room. We didn’t fancy trying to sleep at a 20-degree angle. Besides, we saved so much money by choosing to be hauled out here; we felt we could treat ourselves. And by way of celebration, we had dinner in the best restaurant the hotel had to offer: TGI Fridays. 

When we returned next morning to the Balboa Yacht Club, the guys were grafting away polishing the topsides. By mid-afternoon, they had washed the deck, finished cleaning the topsides, and anti-fouled the non-coppercoated underwater bits. And by 4 pm we were back on the boat, launched down the ramp, and splashed back in the water shipyard-style. After testing both forward and reverse drive, we freed our lines from the cradle and motored back to our mooring. And all that for less than the cost of just the lift out at Flamenco Marina. 

Balboa yacht club


Balboa yacht club


There is a downside of being at the Balboa Yacht Club, however. The air and water quality near the canal isn’t the best. The forest fires contribute to the pollution, but much of it comes from the ships. Before being cleaned, Lady Jane looked like she had been dipped in a cesspool. And as a final two-fingered salute from our mooring (a surprisingly-effective car tyre), wind against tide caused the tyre to rub alongside Lady Jane – leaving a black rubbery mark along the entire length of her topsides. A job for later.