Transit through Gatun Locks to Gatun Lake
02 May 2021 | Gatun Lake
09 11.611 N
79 53.667 W
Weather; hot and humid with rain showers wind n/a, waves n/a
The leaving day is finally upon us. I'm sure that neither of us slept very well as we worried about anything we might have forgotten. It hard to believe we have been here for three weeks but it has flown past in a flurry of fixing stuff and then waiting for today to arrive. We did the last minute stuff like ditching the trash and rolling up the awnings that cover our salon area, we didn't bother to take these off of the boom as we weren't going to be sailing anywhere. Gerry went and bought a couple of baguettes so we have something to accompany the lasagna tonight and at the same time went to fix up our final marina bill and let them know that we will be leaving late this afternoon. Our agent had notified us that we were going to be picking the adviser up on the "flats" an area just outside of the marina and before the Atlantic bridge, at 18.30 hours, giving us all of the day to fret about the upcoming passage. We had a visit from Gavin and Shona which was really nice as it gave us some time to do nothing and not worry about things we might have forgotten, they are now looking at doing their own transit on possibly Monday so they won't be too far behind us. We tried our best to relax in the early afternoon but really weren't terribly good at doing it. Mid-afternoon our three line handlers turned up and introduced themselves as Marcus, John and Jose. They were going to wait in the Haus wind until nearer time to leave. Gerry would go and fetch them when it was closer to the time. We twiddled our thumbs for a while longer, finally unplugging from the dock water and power and stowing the cords and hoses away at 4pm, which was the latest that the marina would let us be connected. A short while after this we had a radio message from the Signal station that our pick up time for the adviser had changed and would now be 18.45. at the same time another boat was given the same pick up time, he knew he was rafting up with another boat nearby to where he was but he asked the signal station if there was a third boat and got told yes, it would be us. A short while later we had a visit from this man a Canadian, he introduced himself and told us that both he and the other boat owner were single handing, they were both mono hulls and both less than 45feet long which put us as piggy in the middle for the transit as we had the biggest boat, could maintain the best speed and would be the meat in the sandwich. This was OK with us as it would mean that we didn't have to worry about the heaving lines with the monkey fists hitting our solar panels as we would be tethered on either side to the other two boats and they would act as the anchoring boats in the canal whilst we would be the driver. It meant that our line handlers would be pretty redundant apart from tying the boats together and making sure the fenders were doing their job but it also meant that the adviser on our boat got to be the one in charge of telling all three boats what to do and when to do it.
Around 5pm our line handlers reappeared and we welcomed them on board showing them the important stuff like how the toilet flush works and where they could sleep. It then began to rain - of course why wouldn't it! Luckily it didn't last for very long but the sky looked threatening and we expected a wet transit - just like last time! When we told them the pickup time for the adviser we also asked them when they would like to eat dinner - before we set off for the locks or when we were through to the Gatun lake, they elected for a late dinner once we arrived at the lake - not an option I particularly liked but I was out numbered.
The moment to leave the dock had arrived and Gerry turned on the instruments, we had a few minutes of panic as our chart plotter didn't fire up, the first time ever, it was working perfectly when Gerry tried it earlier in the day. Being technically minded he did the usual trick of switching it off and then back on again and thank goodness it fired up this time, I think it was just having a minor protest at leaving late in the afternoon!
They guys helped with the casting off and we reversed out of the slip and began to motor towards the flats where we picked a spot and dropped our anchor with at least an hour to wait until the expected arrival of our adviser. More thumb twiddling and luckily a group of 3 optimist sail boats to watch learning the ropes and sails - with one ending up on the reef as we watched. Shortly after dropping our anchor we were joined by the other two boats that were being rafted up with us - Pauline Claire and Libre, neither of which bothered to anchor (too hard single handing we thought even though they had their line handlers to assist). The two of them motored around in ever decreasing circles and eventually, as the clock counted down to 18.45 we hauled our anchor and joined the circular path until at long last the pilot boat with the 3 advisers showed up and transferred to each of our boats. Our adviser for the first part of the transit into Gatun lake was Edwin, he would see us through to tying up in Gatun lake and then disembark. We would be joined in the morning by a new adviser for the second part of the transit. The three boats made their way individually to the first of the Gatun locks, passing under the Atlantic Bridge which a new addition since our last trip but we had gone over this bridge every time that we had gone shopping so we had now seen it from both above and below. Just before the first lock the three boats came together and under the direction of Edwin rafted together, we were apparently going into the Gatun locks behind a ship called Eternity C and had to wait until they were in position in the first lock before we could proceed into the lock. Gerry took control of the steering for a change as he was superfluous as a line handler, much as our 3 guys were once we were rafted up to the other two boats. Under Edwin's instruction Gerry motored for all three boats (the other two had their engines running, but in neutral all the time, for those "oh crap moments") as we entered the lock the lock line handlers threw the having lines on to the two outside boats and they threaded their long lines, that we all had to have, through the heaving lines which were then pulled in by the lock handlers and eventually cleated off on the top of the lock walls on each side, centreing our raft in the lock behind the Eternity C. Once we were all in place the 2 sets of lock gates behind us closed and water started pouring into the lock from the base causing quite a bit of turbulence and swirling as the level rose up the height of the lock walls. The line handlers on the boats on either side of us had to keep the tension on the lines to make certain that the boats didn't drift of be left hanging, it's not a job for anyone how is feeling a bit weak or unable to hold on to the line which is why we think it best to have experienced, professional line handlers on an asset that is worth a lot of money. We saw how the line handlers on one of the boats we were rafted up with struggled to do the job and had to be constantly reminded by their adviser to tension the line, cleat it off or let it out. I was horrified to see two of them (they were young 20-30 year olds) putting their un gloved fingers between the fairleads and the cleats whilst running the lines in or out, how they didn't loose or trap their fingers remains a mystery but I think it was the quick thinking of their adviser who grabbed the line and held it that probably saved them from a horrible accident (they were lucky as this isn't the advisers job to watch for idiots). Our line handlers all resorted to playing or watching stuff on their phones and lounging on the deck during the lock times.Once the water in the lock had reached the top the exit gates opened and the Eternity C made its way out, churning up the water in front of us, we waited until they were clear of the lock and then Edwin gave the blast on his whistle to let all three boats know that we were on the move. Gerry motored all three of us out of the first lock and on to the second lock where everything was repeated and then it was into the third lock for the final raising up to the level of the Gatun lake. We followed the Eternity C out of the final Gatun lock and it was time to uncouple from the other boats and we all made our individual way to the dolphins in the lake where we were to tie up for the night, for those in doubt there will be photos of the dolphins in the gallery and not what you are expecting them to look like! There were only 2 dolphins so we ended up having to share one with Libre for the night, making it a little difficult to get tied up but our line handlers knew what they were doing and we were soon tied up. Edwin was collected by the pilot boat shortly after we had tied up and then there were 5! It was 11 pm when we arrived at the dolphin and the guys were hungry so it was time to have dinner, much too late for me to be eating so I had a couple of mouthfuls, did the dishes and dropped into bed by midnight, not really caring what the guys did or where they slept. Gerry had obviously made sure they were organised and he followed me to bed shortly afterwards. It had been a long day, we were tired and in need of some sleep as tomorrow was going to be another long day. We had no definite time for the second adviser arriving and the last time we did this transit the adviser turned up at 6.30 am so we weren't expecting a long sleep in. In the end we were lucky as the rain held off for the transit, I took a heap of photos but they are all night time shots with lots of bright lights everywhere so I need to sort out a few for the gallery before posting them, bear with me I'm getting there!Today's photo is the sunset taken over Shelter Bay marina from our anchoring spot of the flats - just a big enough break in the clouds to see that the sun exists!