Posted by: Sailing Camelot | December 8, 2012

Repacking the Life Raft in Colon – November 15th

While we’re stuck here in Shelter Bay, we decide to take our life raft to town be repacked, since we’re more than a little behind the one-year service schedule.

The facility that provides this service is 25 Km away in downtown Colon, more specifically in the middle of Colon Zona Libre.

The Zona Libre  is like a heavily guarded fortress, a town within the town with heavily armed soldiers at every point of access. Only tourists and foreigners are permitted into the Free Zone, no locals.

Colon Free Zone is the second largest in the world, eclipsed only by Hong Kong.

Frankly, it’s a ZOO!

I can’t stand shopping in a normal situation, so this is downright unsettling for me. But we’re not here to shop, thankfully.

I can safely recommend these guys.

I can safely recommend these guys for life raft servicing.

Finally we find the place we’re looking for; I previously researched this business and gathered the impression it was reputable.

Still, we take a long, good look around the premises before finally deciding they are trustworthy.

Tom checking out the commercial crafts

Tom checking out the commercial crafts

Our little Switlick all alone in the middle, waiting for attention.

Our little Switlick all alone in the middle, waiting for attention.

I know, I sound diffident and suspicious, and I am! But this life raft may have to save our lives one day, so I want to be sure.

This is a 24 Hour business. Commercial ships pass thru Colon in droves, some staying just for a few hours, so most drop their life rafts here to be serviced on the fly.

Those are the 35 people rafts they carry on the big cargo ships

Those are the 35 people rafts they carry on the big cargo ships

We ask to be present when they open our raft, I really want to get a good look at this thing that cost more than the car I used to own…

Pasqual the experienced technician, carefully opening our raft

Pasqual the experienced technician, carefully unpacking our raft

I expect to see exactly the same sequence as if we were to deploy it in an emergency situation, but no… The gas cylinder that makes the container “explode” open is still good for three more years, and the fiberglass container would be destroyed.

So, no big Boom… Pity…

Quite a spacious raft contained in such a small canister!

Quite a spacious raft contained in such a small canister!

Slowly getting inflated and taking shape

Slowly getting inflated and taking shape

The raft gets carefully extracted from its shell and inflated slowly with compressed air. Within a few minutes it takes shape.

It looks just like a smaller version, very expensive bouncing castle. I hope we never have to use it.

This particular raft model is favored by the US Coast Gurd for their rescues

This raft model is favored by the US Coast Guard for their rescues. Good enough for us!

Tom sizing it up. I'm sure six people would be a little cramped...

Tom sizing it up. I’m sure six people would be a little cramped…

Ok, I’m satisfied, and so is Tom. The life raft will stay inflated for a few hours to be examined and checked for air leaks, then will be deflated and repacked with updated supplies. Fresh flares, fresh First Aid kit, more water packs, etc.

After that it will be folded in a different sequence, so as not to create creases that could weaken the rubber in time. These guys really are professionals, I’m impressed!

A couple of days later we return to pick the raft up, all ready, nice, shiny and certified. We’re good for another year.

Did I mention I hope we NEVER have to use it?

It's big enough for ME!

It’s big enough for ME!

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