Panama Canal updated 11/7
03 July 2012 | Panama
We got an agent, Roy Bravo from Emmanuel Agencies, to take care of our arrangements to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the Panama Canal.
Whilst the process is happening in the background we decided to use the Marina bus to visit the REY supermarket in Colon. We travelled passed one of the Gatun locks and I took a few pictures from the bus. We will soon sail through this, and I will hopefully be able to take more pictures. I wonder if you can buy the video that they are showing online of the transit?
It is raining everyday and the humidity varies between 65% and 85% depending on the rain. It is for example 22h00 and raining outside. The temperature in the saloon of Ntombi is only 28 degrees, but the humidity is 80%. When we open the hatches after the rain, it will bring some relief from the heat, but it will also bring a lot of mosquitos. The SA Peaceful sleep and Tabbard does not keep the mosquitos away either.
The measurer, a very friendly official, came to measure the boat. Ntombi received her Panama Canal Ship Identification number : 3012438. This is a permanent number allocated to Ntombi and should be used every time that she transits the canal.
The process is now underway and we received confirmation that we will start our transit on Thursday, 5 July 2012. I will update the exact times once received, but it will most probably be 16h30 at the first set of locks. We will be in Glutan lake sometime in the evening and will moor at the buoy provided for that purpuse. On 6th at 6h30 we will start motoring for a good 30 odd miles to the next set of locks. We should be through the canal by 15h00/16h00 on Friday, just in time for Sabbath.
Scheduled times (7 hours behind SA)
Pilot boarding time 16h30/05th
Arriving Gatun locks 18h01/05th
Clearing Gatun locks 19h21/05th
Anchoring Gatun lake 19h51/05th
Our scheduled times were changed to the following
Pilot boarding time 1800/05th
Arriving Gatun locks 1931/05th
Clearing Gatun locks 2045/05th
Anchoring Gatun lake 2115/05th
Resuming transit 0630/06th
Completing transit 1451/06th
Roy Bravo, our agent took care of everything for us. He checked us in at Customs and Immigration, he also checked us out. He arranged for line handlers (3) with ample experience - who were able to direct us where to go on the first day. He registered us on the Panama Canal system and scheduled the inspection with the Panama Canal Admeasurements Office. The APC inspector came on Tuesday to measure the boat and ensured that Ntombi has all the necessary features that they require for a transit like cleats, lights, working heads, etc. The agent confirmed our transit date to be Thursday, 5 July 2012. He kept us up to date on the progress on a daily basis. We never felt like we did not know what is happening, or that there were activities done behind the scenes. Roy also took care of tyres (which is used with the fenders) and 120 meter lines for tying up the boat in the lock chambers.
The Canal is handling more than 13 056 blue water ships every year. The average toll for ships using the canal is about $70 to $80 thousand but many save about ten times this figure by eliminating the journey around the Horn. Record tolls: the container ship "Norwergian Pearl" transited for $359 950 and Richard \halliburton, who swam the CVanal in 1926 and was charged 36 cents afhis diplacement tonnage was calculated. The Canal is about 50 miles long and ships are lifted 85 feet in three lockages as they cross the Isthmus
On Wednesday we went to the shopping centre with the Marina Bus. I had a hair cut at a salon where they only speak Spanish. Luckily the hairdresser was able to understand sign language and she did a very good job. I would have liked a modern hairstyle, but had to settle for a short bob. It will be easier with the hair all one length when it grows out on our way to New Zealand.
We bought a few other items like a security system to warn us of intruders on the boat. Other items included meat for Johan, eggs for the advisor and the line handlers, etc. We left the Marina at 8h00 on the bus and only returned back at Ntombi at 16h10. Exhausted but time well spent. We made an appointment with John, the Australian farmer, for a BBQ. Unfortunately Johan spent too much time with the Swiss yachtie, Marcus and therefore ran out of time on the BBQ. They end up eating salads, chicken and wors. John showed me navigation software that is free on the net and it looks better than what I have been using until now. I quickly downloaded the software from the net and installed. I will play with it whilst we are on our very long journey to ensure I know how to use it.
On Thuesday morning I used the free fresh water in the marina to clean the boat on the inside before we departed at the scheduled time in the afternoon. I also met up with Penny to show her our small boat. She is sailing on a 68 feet monohull - exactly double Ntombi size. There are some people you meet that you immediately feel close to. That is the case with Penny. It is a pity that we were not able to stay longer in order for me to really build a relationship with her.
Roy brought the line handelers, Eric, Carlo, Omar, to meet us at 14h30. We were scheduled to leave the marina at 16h00 in order to be at the anchorage in the flats before the advisor joins us at 18h00. I made spaghetti and mince for the crew. The advisor joined us 10 minutes ahead of schedule and we started motoring towards the Gatun locks. It was not only the advisor who joined, but he had an apprentice, Omar with him. Omar has been working on a passager ship who cruised in the South African waters. He used quite a number of Afrikaans phrases during the evening. I really appreciated the effort and felt guilty for not being able to communicate (even one word) of Spanish.
The Gatun locks consist of 3 chambers. Each chamber is 1000 feet long and the breadth is 110 feet. The Gatun locks lifts you 85 feet to the level of the Gatun lake. The Gatun lake is the second largest man made lake in the world. The tide on the Atlantic side is only 1 - 1.5 feet which does not have a major effect on the locks. They closed the gate behind us in the first chamber at 20h10. It only took 8 - 10 minutes to fill up the chamber before they opened the gate ahead of us. There was a very big ship in the front, a tug behind it moored against the wall. We rafted up alongside the tug. We therefore did not need to walk with lines, etc. The lines securing the big ship are being handled by locomotives called mules on both sides of the lock.
When the big ship moves forward to the next chamber, it creates a slight turbulance. Luckily it was not too bad and Johan was able to steer behind it. We had to go very slow in order to give the tug enough time to be moored before we raft up. Although you are moving forward only the length of the chamber, it took until 20h55 before they closed the gate behind us on the second chamber. This was the time that the advisor gave the order to serve dinner. We were all starving by this time, especially seeing that we are used to eating dinner at 17h00 whilst sailing. The last chamber started filling with water at 21h35 and we left the locks at 21h50. We had to motor quite a distance passed the old Panama yacht club site to get to the mooring bouy for the night. The mooring bouy (or rather two next to each other) is so big that you can walk on it. We rafted up and the control boat came to collect the advisor and his apprentice. It was about 23h30 by the time we settled for the night.
The advisor for the next trip was scheduled to join us between 6h30 and 7h00 in the morning. He however arrived at 6h40. The advisor for the morning was very informative. He, Moises, was like a touring guide. It was such a pleasure to have him on board with his wealth of information on Panama. We started motoring immediately and only arrived at the Pedro Miquel lock around 11h15. There are bouys marking the channel. These bouys are marked (not too sure which system they used because some of them has A/B/C etc and they are not the same distance apart either) and you know that you still have 8 miles to go when you get to the bouy marked 98. There is a holiday resort on the other side of the bridge that cross the river that feeds the lake. The lake took 3.5 years to fill up with water. The Centennial Bridge was built to connect the mainland with Panama City because the traffic on the Bridge of the Americas was getting too much. Before they built the bridge, they used ferries to carry the people across the river/lake. The Pedro Miquel lock is only .8 miles from the Centennial bridge. The 'channel' that connects the lake to the Pacific (from the inlet of the Panama river????) was man made. There are two very big hills on either side. Moises told us that they are named Gold Hill and Contractor Hill. The Americans, who got the contract to construct the Panama Canal, told the locals that there were Gold in the Hill. This way the workers were very eager to work the hill down, just to find out that it was all but a lie.
We were 3 boats scheduled to go through this lock. There was a working boat with a crane and the Panama Canal Touring boat. We were supposed to raft up against the touring boat, but the advisor did not realise that it was still behind us when we entered the chamber. We therefore rafted up against the working boat. We buffered ourselves from the boat by using double tyres. This boat was very high and we almost needed fenders against the safety line instead of the haul.
This time round we were going down again to the Pacific. It is again 85 feet that you need to lower, but the tide is however between 15 and 20 feet. It was very quick to go down this chamber, and we motored to the Miraflores locks. This lock has only two chambers and we were now 4 boats. A tug joined us in the front, with the working boat behind it and the Panama Canal Touring boat with us rafter against it. The touring boat arranged for the camera to be focused on this chamber. Hopefully the folks at home was able to see us going through the lock. The tour guide was talking to us and also gave us some very cold sodas. He wanted to know where we are from and where we are going. Later we heard him speaking to his passangers over the intercom, explaining our situation to them. Seems like we are getting a lot of media coverage.
It was a different feeling when the gate of the last chamber opened to the Pacific ocean. I am not too sure if I was sad or excited. It was definitely with mixed feelings and anticipation that we entered the Pacific ocean. We motored again and passed underneath the Bridge of the Americas. We dropped the advisor before we got to the Bridge of the Americas and the line handler, Eric guided us to the Balboa yacht club where we needed to drop them, the tyres and the mooring lines. Eric, who speaks both English and Spanish, was able to secure the last available mooring bouy for us. We will spend at least our Sabbath on the mooring before we move on to join the guys on Blueshift.
On Sunday morning, Johan started to work on the dinghy floor board. He used fibreglass to mend the crack in order for us to use it at our next anchorage. Whilst he was busy, an inspector joined us on the boat. He came to do a health, agriculture, etc inspection. He wanted to see my tinned food, perishables, fresh produce, water, etc. He told me that he had to also check the expiry date on my products. We completed a form and paid US$15.00 for his services. He told us to check in at Flamenco island, whilst we were already checked in at Colon. He was speaking Spanish and it was amazing because I was able to understand most of his instructions/questions.
When he left, we packed up and went to Flamenco island, using a taxi. There are 3 little islands, Naos, Perica and Flamenco that is connected to the main land with a landfilled road. There is a duty free shop on the Flamenco island and the prices are quite reasonable. We were unfortunately not interested in buying perfume, Air travel equipment, Swiss chocolates, alcohol, etc. We walked back to Perica island and met up with the joungsters on Blueshift. We discussed our plans to sail together to Marquesas and agreed to give it a try to Las Perlas. We will use this 45 mile trip to test the communication, etc between the two boats.
We left them eating Pizza's and took a taxi to Albrook shopping centre. The shopping centre is really very big. We walked and walked and walked to get to the supermarket, 99. We found pickeled beef for Johan, veggies and fruit and a few other things on our list. We were hungry and bought hamburgers for the first time since St Helena. It was US1.75 and I gave my patty to Johan and he therefore changed his burger into a double burger. We took the taxi back to Balboa yacht club.
As we walked down the pier, we heard somebody calling Johan. When we turned around it was Penny and her husband. Thye had lunch at Flamenco island and decided to walk down to Balboa yacht club in search of us. God is great to get the timing so perfect that they arrived (slowing down by walking instead of using a taxi) and us arriving at the same time back from shopping spree. We spend some time together and it was sad to say goodbye. I am however convinced we will meet up again somewhere. In the meanwhile, the electronic media is great and we will stay in contact. We returned to Ntombi to pack everything away and Johan continued working on the floorboard.
We bought a map from Panama to Marquesas and then went to Albrook shopping centre. When we were on our way back to Balboa yacht club, Johan realised that we have lost the chart. Luckily we were close to the shop where we bought it, and we asked the taxi driver to stop in order for Johan to buy another chart. This chart is therefore very expensive and should be framed once done with the journey. Johan continued working on the floor board whilst I packed everything away. He also serviced the Autopilots and found that water got into the one again. We did the last washing and returned to Ntombi ready for the sail on Tuesday morning, 9 July.
There might be a slight delay in us leaving due to an oil spill in the marina. Ntombi has very bad oil stains and Johan will try and get it cleaned, or money imbursed to clean it ourselves before we leave in the morning. Hopefully this will not take too long and we will be on our way by 12h00 at least.
The sail did not happen on Tuesday morning because of the oil spill in the marina. Our boat was heavily stained by the oil and had to be cleaned. Whilst we were waiting for the boat to be cleaned, we walked around in the area of the yacht club. There are lots and lots of Mango trees and one guy was picking them and gave us 4 Mangoes. They were very sweet and we would have loved to get more. We also realised on Tuesday evening that our rice (and pasta) consumption is a bit more than what we used in our calculation of provisions. We therefore went to the shop on Wednesday to buy more stock. We will definitely not run out before we arrive in New Zealand. We came back from town and met with the woman who was cleaning Ntombi. We are ready to continue our journey to Marquesas via Las Perlas islands and Galapagos if need be. We will spend a day or two at Las Perlas with the 5 joungsters from Blueshift who is sailing with us to Marquesas. This is the longest strentch and we do not have an idea how long is will take. Some people reckon it could be anything between 20 and 40 days. Our friend Gilbert took 17 days to Galapagos plus another 39 days to Marquesas during March to May 2005. Our average speed is just slightly better than Gilberts.