The Panama Canal
06 January 2017 | Balboa Panama
The best time to write your blog is right after it happens. I am going to update my blog a month late and tell you about the second half of my sailboat delivery of Optimus Prime to St Thomas USVI.
We arrived in Balboa on the Pacific side of Panama on Monday December 5, one day later than planned. Our friend Chuck was waiting for us when we arrived. We got a mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club and began making preparations to transit the Panama Canal. First was to contact our agent, Roy. Roy was to make all the arrangements for our transit and paperwork for entering and exiting Panama. On Tuesday we got measured and received our official Panama Canal ID Number. Sadly, although OP is a 49 foot model, she has a radar arch with solar panels and dinghy davits. This put her over 50 feet and into the next price bracket. We were put into the que for transit and got a spot on Thursday December 8.
The Canal Pilot and three line handlers arrived at 0800 and we began to preparations for getting underway. There refrigerator ship Green Freezer was going through the Mira Flores locks just ahead of us. We rafted up to the 112' S/V Kawi and entered the Mira Flores locks just after 0900. There is about ½ mile between the second and third Mira Flores locks. We stayed rafted up to Kawi, we were along for the ride. Once through Mira Flores we had to cross Gutan Lake, about 30 miles as I recall. We really put the coals to OP and the Yanmar ran perfectly. We checked the temperature periodically and there were no issues. If you cannot cross Gutan Lake in one day, you must anchor overnight. We told the authorities we could motor at 8 knots (wink, wink), making a little over 7.5 knots got us across in time to make it through the Gutan Locks.
We entered the Gutan Locks just ahead of the cruise ship Sea Whisper. A "boutique" ship with only about 500 passengers. When Sea Whisper hit their bow thruster prior to entering the locks, it pushed OP like a feather. We entered the lock just ahead of the cruise ship. We made it through the first two of three locks without any issues. I was handling the starboard/aft line and the three hired guys had the other lines. Chuck was in charge of galley as we had to fed our Pilot and Line Handlers. The Pilot advised that leaving Lock # 2 was tricky, because the fresh water from Gutan Lake mixes with the sea water of the Carribean Sea and causes some turbulence.
We did not expect the amount of turbulence we got. The Port/Aft line hander on land was slow to release his line and we slowed to let the line get released. This caused us to loose steerage. (on a sail boat you must be moving for the rudder to work, no water past the rudder...no steering). OP got sideways 90 degrees in the Canal. We were hard on the bow thruster trying to keep from spinning 180 degrees. We got it under control and the bow pointed the right way again. It was exciting! The Pilot said when boats are rafted together they can "tractor" like a catamaran to avoid spinning like that. We later heard that some boats have had to exit in reverse due to spinning like that.
We got through the locks by 1600 hours (4:00 pm) and dropped off the Pilot on a pilot boat. The line handlers rode with us to Shelter Bay Marina where we got a slip. It only took us 10 hours to go through the Panama Canal. It was a great experience. It was my third time through the Canal, but the first time on a sailboat. The first two were on submarines for the US Navy. One LA Class SSN and an Ohio class SSBN.