Second day of transit through Panama Canal
03 May 2021 | 08 56.256'N:79 33.418'W, Balboa Yacht Club, Balboa, Panama City
08 56.256 N
79 33.418 W
Weather; hot and humid, wind n/a, waves n/a
After the blink of an eye's worth of sleep we were up and dressed at 6 am, a bit bleary eyed and uncommunicative but we were up! Our line handlers remained resolutely asleep, with two of them in the cockpit and one in the quarter berth, I guess they are used to sleeping on strange boats in odd places (the cockpit was their choice, they could have slept in the salon but chose outside probably because it was cooler). Interestingly we didn't hear the howler monkeys overnight and when we commented on this we were told that they very rarely hear them through the lake any more since the canal expansion, I guess the jungle has retreated back further due to it.
Why were we up so early? Well on our last trip the second adviser rocked up at 6.30 am so we didn't want to be caught out if the same thing happened this time around. Gerry set about making a pot of coffee, he got grunts of "no thanks" from the line handlers and "later for breakfast" when he asked them if they wanted to eat yet. Basically he was on his own as I couldn't face either coffee or anything to eat at this point in time.
We sat very quietly in the salon awaiting the arrival of the second adviser, the line handlers eventually surfaced at around 8 am but there was still no sign of the adviser. By 8.45 am Gerry was starving and asked the guys again if they were ready for breakfast and got a yes from them this time around. Gerry began gathering eggs, bacon, bread and tomatoes along with pans and plates and had just put everything on to cook when of course the pilot boat rocked up and our adviser stepped on board, ready to begin part two of the transit. Our adviser for the second part of the transit was a lady called Kirsty. I took over the cooking, reluctantly I might add - I don't "do" breakfast and asked the adviser if she wanted to join the guys in breakfast to which I got a yes - there were now 5 to cook for. Gerry meanwhile had started up the engine got the guys to release the line from the dolphin and had begun to motor us through the lake. I managed to get 5 plates of food prepared and glasses of juice poured and served up before 9.30 am, Gerry had put the auto pilot to work and all of the crew ate breakfast whilst I cleaned up the pots and pans and then the plates and cutlery - a job that I thought really shouldn't have been down to me but as I was the only one not occupied with eating, I was the nominated person! Once everything was cleaned away I finally joined the rest of the crew in the cockpit where we discovered, thanks to phone hot spots that the guys were staring at, that there had been a 5.1 magnitude earth quake at 1.30 am, around the Colon area after we had left - yes we like to live dangerously! We aren't sure how much damage, if any, it has caused but we were glad not to have been in the midst of it. I'm sure the line handlers were concerned for their families at this point as they were all on their phones to home but nothing appeared to be out of sorts with them so it was all good. We had a long passage of motoring before we would reach the Pedro Miguel and Mira Flores locks so basically we sat and watched the world go by for the next few hours. Our three line handlers all vanished back below decks and when I checked on them all three were once again asleep, taking up the entire salon and the quarter berth. The adviser, Gerry and I continued to keep watch on the passing jungle along with the huge juggernaut ships that were also transiting through the lake. One thing that was different to our last passage is that we were travelling in the main channel this time and when we asked Kirsty about the smaller channel that we went through last time, she explained that it was now only used for the small work boats and small vessels transiting no longer used this channel - every boat of every shape and size used the main channel. As we progressed we passed several massive boats including a sister ship to the Ever Given that had got stuck in the Suez Canal just a short while ago. Like the Even Given this ship, the Ever Lively, was laden down with hundreds of containers. I took photos of a couple of the behemoth ships that we encountered and will eventually put them in the gallery so that you can see what we had to deal with passing and avoid coming into contact with - we wouldn't have stood a chance in a collision even though as a sail boat we could have had right of way (and before anyone comments I know that we were motoring and not sailing but it would have been a matter of a moment to unfurl a sail and be under the sailing convention, giving us right of way!). It really didn't matter too much we needed to keep clear at all costs! There is one narrow part in the canal, the Galliard Cut, where everyone has to be quite aware of and it is difficult for these large ships to pass each other. As we approached this cut a huge carrier was on its way towards us with another huge container ship following us, our adviser had us pull over as far to starboard as was possible and to hang around in idle until the two massive ships had safely passed each other - we didn't need to get in between them. Once they had crossed paths we followed on and at some point managed to get in front of the ship heading in the same direction as us. By now it was getting towards lunch time and I had gone below to make up some coleslaw so I didn't get to hear the pilot on the big boat contact our adviser and complain that we were in the middle of the channel,(we weren't) they were moving faster than us (they weren't) and there was rain heading towards us (there was but it was just a shower) so they wouldn't be able to see us (were they blind?)and might run into us (imagine the insurance bill if they did) - he was a bit stressed out and not entirely correct as Gerry said we were as far to Starboard as we could go, maintaining a constant speed and the rain when it came didn't obscure anything as it wasn't heavy however rather than argue with the pilot, our adviser had us pull right out of the way and let this ship go ahead of us which set up a wake that rocked us for a while which was the only way I knew that something was going on.
At some time during the passage we must have gotten a little close to a nesting site as we were "chased off" by a couple of what I think were House Martins (or something similar), the pair of them kept flying around our boat and landing on our wind generator blades. It was funny to watch as the blades turned as soon as any weight went on them and the birds got thrown off, it didn't take too many attempts for them to realise that if they landed on the motor part rather than the blades they didn't get thrown off and I managed to snap a couple of photos of our hitch hikers. They were very vocal and obviously concerned about our proximity to their nest but as we moved further forward they eventually disappeared. We also saw a couple of very pretty butterflies that flew in to the cockpit but didn't land or hang around for long enough to get a photo taken. As we got closed to the locks the adviser suggested that it might be a good idea to organise lunch before we went through the locks so I was once again banned to the galley and dished up hot dogs, pickles, coleslaw and potato chips for everyone except the adviser who said she wasn't hungry yet. I was a bit miffed to be honest at having to get more food ready so soon after breakfast (it was only three and a half hours since they had finished breakfast) but who am I to say when they should eat. So now I'm going to let you know how bad a cook I can be - I threw the onions and hot dogs into pans and cooked it all up then handed it out. Gerry yelled down to me for a sharp knife which I handed out to him, apparently the hot dog sausages, which came out of a packet, were also individually wrapped in thin plastic and I had cooked them in the plastic! This skin of plastic wasn't visible when they came out of the packet and I hadn't even realised there was a plastic skin at any point but the guys were obviously use to the wrapping and knew to remove it - Whoops! Luckily the plastic came off fairly easily even though it was cooked and everyone finished their hot dog without any further issue. Honestly who wraps hot dog sausages in plastic and then puts them into a packet? At least I will never make that mistake again and it was a meal for the guys to remember us by.
We finally reached the locks and all three boats joined back together in the raft just outside the first lock. This time we were going to be in the lock with the huge car carrier that had given our adviser a hard time but our raft was going to be in front of the car carrier so we would have a different perspective of the lock operation. Gerry did the motoring again for all three boats and Pauline Claire and Libre did the line handling through all of the following locks. The car carrier pulled in behind us and dwarfed us, if they thought they would have trouble out in the open water seeing us then I dread to think how they would have managed without the mules pulling them into position behind us - there was no way they would have been able to see us up so close. With each progressive lock the same operation applied.
As a side note and in case I didn't explain it well enough, the Gatun locks from yesterday had us enter with the water at the lowest point and the locks then filled to raise us up to the level of the next lock until we got to the highest water point which is at the Gatun lake. The locks today had us entering with the water at the highest point and then draining out to bring us down to the next lock height until we reached the Pacific Ocean level at the end.
Once we had cleared all of the locks it was time to break up the raft and for each of us to go our separate ways. We broke out a cold beer / coke and a plateful of water melon and chocolate frosted cake to celebrate the end of the transit, all of which went down well.
As we approached the Balboa Yacht club Gerry radioed ahead and had to resort to using a line handler to translate the instructions, we had to first wait for the pilot boat to collect our adviser and then follow a water taxi to our mooring ball. The pilot boat appeared shortly afterwards and we waved Kirsty goodbye. The line handlers picked up the mooring ball for us and tied us on and then grabbed all of their gear ready to leave. The water taxi collected all of our hired lines and fenders which cost us $12 for him to return to shore with, the line handlers waved us good bye and then there was just the two of us. We tied a second line to the mooring ball as we normally do and then sat enjoying the relative peace and quiet of just two bodies on our boat. We had finished the transit through the locks at 5.30 pm and it was now approaching 6.30 pm time for a shower, another cold drink and an early night. Neither of us wanted to eat anything, all we needed was a halfway decent night's sleep. We weren't sure we were going to get it as the mooring field is just to the side of the main channel which is used by every size of ship imaginable plus we were fairly close to the fuel and dropping off dock so there was a constant stream of water taxis and tug boats going backwards and forwards all the time and this didn't stop - it's a 24 hour operation. It really didn't matter we were tired and probably would have slept through the apocalypse!
All told at the end of the day we had transited the canal with no real problems, Gerry had put George to work during the Gatun lake part of the passage and we are happy to say that everything in that department worked perfectly, I might have to hire Gerry out as an auto pilot fixer now that he has experience!