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panama canal transit ~ day 1

Posted by on April 20, 2013

March 3, 2013

tire-and-fender decorated & ready for her transit

our official number displayed in the cockpit

Excitement and nervousness was in the air. We rushed around checking off last minute items from our list, we quickly got the ball rolling for our Galapagos paperwork, and then our line handlers showed up with our tires and lines. It was real and it was happening!

We were required to stand by on VHF 12 for Cristobal Signal Station. They hailed us to verify our location and transit time. Our original 1530 transit time was moved up to 1500. Boats are told to begin their move to The Flats 2 hours prior to their transit time. However, we had heard that The Flats tended to have poor holding, so in order to avoid anchoring, we decided to go against the grain and not depart Shelter Bay until 1400. I was fine with this decision until the wind began picking up and the clouds began to darken. I didn’t want to get caught in the rapidly approaching storm just as we were trying to get away from the dock. Wil, on the other hand, refused to leave until 1400, but all ended up being okay.
At 1400, we tossed off our dock lines, and along with our newest crew members, headed off in a line with our canal raft partners, s/v Nirvana and s/v Supertramp III, to The Flats where we waited for our canal adviser. We did end up dropping the hook for about 30 minutes, and fortunately, we had no issues.

waves breaking over the breakwater

Just after 1500 hours, a pilot boat pulled alongside, and our canal adviser, Roy, boarded. Immediately, Roy put us at ease about everything. He was extremely professional and quickly had our crew organized. When Roy gave the word, we hauled up anchor and motored towards the first series of locks, the Gatun Locks.

m/v Lady Korcula, one of our transit partners arriving

As we began our raft up with s/v Nirvana and s/v Supertramp III, the winds really kicked up. Our anemometer reads slightly higher than actual wind speed, but when our raft entered the first lock, we showed 33 knots from our stern. Regardless of the strong winds, everyone handled their boats amazingly well. Also due to the winds, we needed the other two boats to use their engines.

our first raft up ~ s/v Nirvana on our port side

canal mules at the entrance to Gatun Locks

following m/v Lady Korcula into the first Gatun Lock

canal line handlers throwing the monkey fists

walking the lines up top

the first gates at Gatun Locks closing

our line handler team ~ Mario, George & Louis

the first gates at Gatun Lake almost closed

excited about new experiences

mule helping to control m/v Lady Korcula

swirling water as the level rises

top of the first lock

entering the next Gatun lock behind m/v Lady Korcula

walking the lines up to the top

WAY up there!

a bit more relaxed now that the transit has begun

starting water level




rising water

more swirling water as we rise

luckily we only had small prop wash in front of us

Gatun Locks

bulls eye for monkey fist competitions

a great smile

keeping an eye on things from above

strong winds made it difficult for this ship

strong winds forced this ship sideways

getting ready to exit the last Gatun lock

canal mule at Lake Gatun

looking back from Gatun Lake

Night was falling as we reached Gatun Lake and we were exhausted, but we weren’t finished yet. We still had to tie up to the huge buoys on the lake, feed everyone dinner, and figure out sleeping arrangements. To make matters worse, the skies suddenly opened with pouring rain which was actually flying horizontally with more strong winds.
There were two buoys. s/v Supertramp III went to one buoy, and we went to the other. Once we were tied to the buoy, we realized that the buoys spin, and the wind was making us spin on the buoy. s/v Nirvana needed to share the buoy with us, but it was almost impossible to approach a spinning target in strong wind. This maneuver stressed Mark (s/v Nirvana) a bit, but he handled it beautifully and without incident.
As soon as all was secure, Roy hailed for a pilot boat to pick him up. He respectfully declined dinner because he was eager to get home. I was amazed that the only thing he consumed throughout the entire day was one Coca-Cola. Of course, it had been cool and windy all day, so beverages weren’t a top priority.
It wasn’t long before the pilot boat arrived, but they too had trouble pulling up to a moving target in the wind. I was in the galley getting dinner ready, when suddenly there was a loud crash and the entire boat shuttered. The pilot boat had hit us in the starboard transom! Fortunately, the steel chain plate we’d installed for our drogue took the brunt of the hit, and there was no damage. The pilot boat had to make another attempt, and Roy manged to make it safely to the boat.
Due to our cabins overflowing with storage, our original plan was for our line handlers to camp in the cockpit, which is what a lot of line handlers end up doing anyway. However, with rain blowing horizontally, we had them sleep in the main salon. With plenty of blankets and pillows, they spread themselves out on the salon seats and on the floor.
Not too long after we got our line handlers settled, we discovered that one of s/v Nirvana’s line handlers was getting wet in their cockpit. We had him move over to our cockpit. He’d still get dripped on, but at least he wouldn’t get drenched.
While we had hoped to have one of the famous buoy parties, go for a swim in the lake, and look for crocodile eyes in the dark, we were all exhausted and the rain continued to pour. We were all exhausted, and we had an early morning ahead. By the end of the next day, we would be in the Pacific!
Note: Later we learned that winds were clocked at 80 knots in the Colon area that night, and four large freighters broke free and washed up on the rocks at the canal breakwater. We knew it was a windy night!

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