10 years since we transited Panama Canal !
12 June 2019
Bill and Linda Anderson
I’m reminiscing here a little and I’m sure some things have changed since we transited the Panama Canal. Here’s my blog from 10 years ago:
Webcam photo taken at Miraflores locks 13 June 2009. Valiam is the closest on the port side of Infinity (catamaran) with La Barca on the starboard side "nested" together. A big thank you to Jerry, Yolanda and Paul for sending us the images. (more in gallery! click on that little camera!)
Saturday 13 June 2009
We are now on a mooring at Balboa Yacht club. the transit was both exhilerating and exhausting. We hope you saw us on webcam at Miraflores as we had the lock to ourselves! I know it was early for you! We made good time. We are presently entertaining and feeding/watering our linehandlers who were fantastic - English yachtie couple Nick and Cathy and aussie James. I took enough photos to fill an ablbum as well as movies. It was a great experience. Now we are in the Pacifico - Pacific ocean - 8000 miles to get home!!
Balboa Yacht Club
14th June 2009
Position: 8 55.23N 79 31.88W
As ships and tugs chug past us making Valiam roll from side to side I am reflecting back on the last day and night of our Panama Canal transit. It was exciting, scary, sometimes stressful, exhilarating and amazing. To think that the canal and its locks have been operating successfully for 100 years to allow ships to pass through to the Pacific rather than the long way around past Cape Horn is a feat in engineering and human effort (especially the labour - people from Caribbean, India and Africa. Now they are using machines to widen the canal and create new bigger locks.
From Shelter Bay Marina the 3 skippers of Valiam, La Barca and Infinity (catamaran) arranged with the canal authorities to do the transit together. We asked fellow yachties at the marina to be line handlers and had a barbeque the night before to get to know one another. We all certainly worked as a team and everything went very well. It was certainly nice to have yachties we knew staying overnight in our boat rather than Panamanians we didn't know. Although if we had to employ Panamanians it may have been an interesting cultural experience living together in close quarters for 24 hours.
Well here is the detailed blow by blow account:
On Friday the 12th June at 3pm we left Shelter Bay Marina with our crew of 5 to motor across the shipping lane and anchor what is known in Colon as 'the Flats'. Our advisors for the 3 yachts arrived by launch at around 5.30pm. Our first advisor was Astro who gave us a talk about all the dos and don'ts of line handling and what we were to expect. The 3 yachts motored off in line towards the canal entrance where we had to tie ourselves together whilst still moving slowly along. We managed to do this with the expert advice of our skippers and advisor with many fenders between us and Infinity (catamaran). A big blue ship with yellow cranes was just ahead of us and we had to go in behind it as we were sharing the Gatun locks with it. By 7.30 we were all ready and started to go through. The whole place was lit up with big lights everywhere. Lind handlers walk along the side of the lock with lines with 'monkey fists' on the end. Four of these are thrown to the yachts. Infinity controlled the 2 bow lines and Valiam and La Barca had one stern line each. After the line with the 'monkey fists' are caught they are tied through the big loop of the main lines we hired. The shore line handlers then pull these ropes (all the while we are moving along trying not to get the ropes caught anywhere!) and when we are in the lock secure us to the big bollards. The line handlers on each yacht secure the line in such a way so it can easily be slackened or tightened when necessary. The advisor on each yacht gives instructions. The driver of the flotilla was Mark's partner Lee on the catamaran. She had their advisor with her the whole time assisting with controlling the flotilla. Lee did an amazing job. Mark the skipper of Infinity was fantastic on the bow controlling one of the bow lines and assisting the other line handlers. Our main line handlers Nick and James worked hard especially James in Gatun locks. Gatun lock was the scariest and controlling the yachts to stay in the middle during the turbulence of the incoming water was a bit difficult at times. We were all a bit nervous as it was our first one. With each set of locks it became easier. Kathy and I were between the cat and Valiam watching and adjusting fenders if necessary as we rubbed along together. We didn't want our chain plates damaging this beautiful boat! During the whole trip I was in charge of looking after the crew and advisor for all their needs - drinks, food, instructions on how to use the toilet etc. The 'left over crew' were the paparazzi taking 1000s of photos and movies of the whole trip.
At around 9pm we arrived at the large buoy in Gatun Lake where we managed to tie up the 3 boats. Our advisor Astro left us here when the launch came to pick him up. He managed to take the mobile phone away from his ear when he said goodbye to us. (It seemed to be glued there the whole trip) Infinity and La Barca rafted together and Valiam on the other side. The buoy in the lake is a big red round rubber thing of about 3-4 metres wide. We could step out on to this and visit each other. Of course the catamaran became the 'Party Boat'. We shared food and drinks. Adam had promised a 'Party on the Lake' when we coerced out line handlers. Of course Adam and Bill had already spent 3 days here when stuck on the broken down boat. Our line handlers were grateful for the experience as they will be doing it themselves soon.
I did hear some howler monkeys in the distance that evening and was determined to have a quick dip in the freshwater lake. I did this around midnight conscious of the crocodiles so it was a very quick dip! Just on light we heard 'Bill! Bill! They're on their way!' (The advisors on the launch.) Bill had time to put on some shorts and crawl out of our hatch in our cabin so as not to disturb our sleeping guests in the saloon. Soon everyone woke up with the commotion and we were on our way. Roy our 2nd advisor was very conscientious and stayed either on our bow watching or back with Bill. The trip across the lake took 6 hours as we passed ships and watched the scenery. I made coffee and tea for everyone then breakfast (scrambled eggs, toast and mushrooms). Jam and marmite was also available for the mountain of toast as well as juice. Everyone including the advisor enjoyed their breakfast and we were all in good spirits. It's good to have plenty of cold drinks on hand for this trip - bottled water, coke and juice. As we were running early - 11.30am we were lucky and had the last series of locks to ourselves.
This time when we rafted up we made sure Valiam was a little further back as on the previous bit the lines tended to get caught around the anchor and rigging at the front. Whilst we were rafted up in the lake waiting to go in the lock a tug boat came by very fast. We jumped towards the middle where the boats were tied and Mark grabbed an extra fender and pushed it down with his feet as we moved up and down. Roy was angry with the tug boat waving his arms and swearing in Spanish. The tugs seem to cause the biggest waves and are supposed to slow down when passing smaller boats.
The last series of locks were great. Going down was much easier than going up the night before. It was a strange sinking feeling as we went down. It became an echo chamber which we all of course had to try out! When we go to Miraflores we knew the web cam was on us. Roy radioed them as he knew I was sending messages to Australia to get images of us. (Unfortunately it was 2-3am there!) We waved and dance about for the cameras. There was a crowd of tourists in a building alongside near what appeared to be a restaurant. I guess watching ships (and yachts) must be great entertainment. We heard both English and Spanish from a loudspeaker describing the lock process and 'the small sailboats'.
As the last lock gates opened to the Pacific, Roy said 'Look - your home!' It was a great moment. Bill put the chart plotter on large scale with the chart of Australia and if went in a straight line it would be 7,762 miles to Brisbane! He said 'We probably wouldn't bump into much!'
As we had to drop off our hired lines and line handlers at Balboa Yacht Club we headed there calling them up on the radio. Eventually La Barca and Valiam were directed to a mooring each. It was now about 1pm. Soon it started raining heavily. During lunch we phone Tony's taxi service to pick up the line handlers from both Valiam and La Barca. We received a couple of calls form Tony as he was delayed due to the heavy rain. Whilst waiting for the rain to ease we napped, looked at photos, and drank a bottle of champagne. Eventually when it wasn't too wet for the launch, the line handlers were finally able to leave both yachts at about 5pm. We really had a great time with them and hope to see them again. Nick and Kathy are also sailing to the Marquesas soon so we will hopefully catch up again - maybe in Galapagos.
Today we will go into town to look for an internet café and perhaps a bit of cheap shopping before getting together with the crews of La Barca and Infinity once more. (This is important to swap photos of each others boats!)