2nd Transit Day in Panama Canal
27 March 2018 | Panama Canal
After the first night tied up to an ocean mooring buoy, we all woke up to a beautiful morning. Our agent phoned us to inform us we would receive our Traffic Advisor at 12:30pm. So the morning was spent taking a swim in fresh-water Gatun Lake. Only after getting out of the water did Ricardo, an experienced line handler tell us some stories of crocodiles in Gatun Lake..... The surprise and entertainment of the morning was seeing the Coral Princess cruise ship come through the upper lock, and then slowly turn around and stop between the old locks and the new locks. What was it doing? We thought: someone had jumped over board, maybe it was a ship exercise, maybe it was dropping some people off since life boats were deployed. Only later did we learn that the cruise ships sometimes go through the Gatun Locks, stop, unload passengers so they can take land tours, go back to Colon where the passengers will meet up with the ship to continue on. At 12:55pm our Transit Advisor arrived telling us we needed to leave immediately. To his surprise we had the engine running, we released lines from the mooring buoy, and we are off at stop speed. We had to meet up with a ship that was about one mile away, and get in front of it, tie up to a tug (yeah)...and the ship was not going to stop to let us in. We made it with a hundred yards to spare!!! Gatun Locks are three separate locks: Higher, Middle, and Lower. We learned quickly that there are currents, eddies, and winds off to our port. We tied starboard side to the tug. The ship 'Great Beauty', a petroleum tanker, took up most of the lock width with 5' on each side to spare. They were three boat lengths away from us: 150'. Going down, there was less turbulence. Tied up to the huge tug was reassuring. But then came the Middle Lock. The advisor told me to stay on the left side of the lock while the tug went on to the far end to tie up. But when I went to the left side, we tied the bow to a bollard, and then Julia Max shifted quickly 90 degrees perpendicular to the lock sidewall. All I could think of was to spin around with a 'back and fill' maneuver. It would work in calm water and no wind. But we had currents and wind. I spun 180 degrees, thinking how the tug and the pilot on Great Beauty were taking this in. A lock person was jumping up and down wondering what we were doing. Then the wind kept catching our bow, and preventing my finishing coming up into the wind. Panic. But we kept trying, and slowly she came around. Prayers answered. We went to the left side, but stayed in control of our heading, the tug passed us, we tied up to them when they were set, and the pilot of Great Beauty came forward probably with a few more gray hairs. While waiting for the water to lower, I suggested that we should center our steering wind vane and tighten it down, so that when I had to back up it wouldn't affect our maneuvering (so I thought). But when we entered the Lower lock, I was having great difficulty controlling Julia Max. The currents caused by fresh water mixing with salt water, the winds at 15 knots, and my steering vane rudder centered, were affecting my steerage. We were headed sharply towards the right side wall. People rushed forward with fenders and tires. At first I thought, with enough power I should be able to turn. Then I tried reverse. The steering vane was released. We came up, and bounced off the side wall using the fenders. Great work, people!! We tied up to the tug for the third time. The water dropped, the gates opened, and we headed out in 15 knots of wind as fast as we dared. Thanks to a great crew, we came through the Panama Canal unscathed, and more knowledge than we wanted. We had about four miles left to drop off the Transit Advisor, and settle in to Shelter Bay Marina where we would be for the next few days.