A New Adventure Begins
15 December 2012 | Panama Canal, Central America
A new adventure begins. After spending two winters cruising the Easter Caribbean, and most recently the last 2 years cruising the Western Caribbean and Central America we are changing oceans. We are scheduled to transit the Panama Canal Saturday Dec 29th. So we will be spending Christmas on the Eastern side of the continent and New Years on the Western side. In general the areas we have cruised so far has been relatively close together, rarely more than a few hours or overnight sail away. You can often see your next destination in the E Caribbean before you leave port. Weather forecasts are easily obtainable and usually very accurate. The tidal range on this side of the continent typically is 12 ~ 18 inches.
To get to the Pacific we will be transiting the Panama Canal, built 100 years ago and still working 24/7. There are 3 locks on each end, raising or lowering boats approximately 30 feet each. Over 220 million cubic yards of dirt & rock were excavated, and 2 million cubic yards of concrete poured to build the locks. The locks are gravity filled and emptied, using over 7 million gallons per lock to fill or drain in less than 15 minutes. The locks on the Caribbean side are 30 miles from those on the Pacific side. After motoring through Lake Gatun to the Pacific side you actually come out of the locks further East than when you started. Each lock is 110 feet wide and just over 1000 feet long. It will cost us $1000 to transit the Canal which doesn't even cover their cost to move us. The large cargo and cruise ships pay as much as $150,000 to transit each way. When the new, larger locks are completed in 2014 they will accommodate ships 150 feet wide and 1500 feet long. These container ships will transport as many as 15,000 containers each and pay up to $500,000 to use the Canal. It is amazing that it will have only taken 7 years to complete at a cost of @ $6 billion. Sounds like a bargain compared to what Congress spends on questionable projects.
Once on the Pacific side we will have entered a whole new cruising environment. The tides in the Eastern Pacific, along Central & S America, are typically 12~14 feet, and can reach 20 feet!! Much more careful planning will be required for navigation and anchoring. Heading across the Pacific the distances are very long, and navigational charts are often in error by large distances. Once we leave Panama it is a 900 mile sail to the Galapagos, the first set of islands we will reach. Sailing 24 hrs/day at an average sailing speed of 5~7 mph it will take 6 to 9 days to get there, depending on weather, currents, and Neptune's mood. From the Galapagos to the Marquesas, French Polynesia, is 3000 miles as the crow flies, with nothing but water in between. This passage can easily take 3~5 weeks depending on the whims of the weather. Weather reports will be received via ham radio or ssb (marine version of ham). Some times there is no good reception for days and you just keep slogging along and hope for the best. Once in Polynesia the inter island distances to Fiji or Tonga shorten to ranges of 400 to 700 miles. They will seem like a day sail after a 3000 mile passage. Updates will be more sporadic as the areas we will traverse will be more remote and less likely to have reliable internet, if at all.
Merry Christmas to all.
Vern & Michelle