Zen in the Pacific
30 January 2009 | Panama Canal - Pacific Side
In 1913, almost 100 years ago, the Panama Canal officially opened for business. We can attest it's still working like clockwork. With our very experienced crew, Don James (very good friend from the USA who cruised with us when we sailed Uliad), Frank from s/v Anemos hailing from Norway, and Andre from s/v Tigre hailing from France, we waved goodbye to our friends and family at Shelter Bay Marina at 4:00pm. By 6:30p our Canal Advisor, Francisco, was aboard and we were motoring towards the Gatun Locks, 3 chambers upward toward Gatun Lake, where we'd moor overnight. The chamber was pretty full, 4 boats in all, but we were surrounded by tons of tires and fenders, quite safe and sound. The photo above shows the cockpit of Zen, with the tanker in front, as we start to rise up 27 feet in our chamber. We rafted to a brand new Moorings charter boat that was sailed over from Cape Town, South Africa by a 4 person crew. Gavin, the hired captain, and his crew, are delivering the vessel directly to Tahiti. In the front was a tanker, the middle was a smaller fuel barge, then Zen and the Moorings cat. Our 3-lock, 85 foot elevator ride to Gatun Lake was perfect. We watched the turbulence of the incoming fresh water and the Atlantic Ocean surge behind us. Don, Andre and Frank took turns at the two docklines, while the off-man took photos and absorbed the feat of engineering. Arriving at the mooring around 10:00pm, we laughed, commiserated and then after some strong Venezuelan chocolate caliente, we passed out. Next morning, at 6:30a everyone woke up to the thunder of Howler Monkeys in the jungle around us. They are so loud, it sounds something between a lion's roar or a Mack truck. Ricky, our new advisor, was shuttled to us in a pilot boat and once onboard, we were underway for the Banana Channel Shortcut. The day was a motorboat ride through the jungle. Many Panamax ships, loaded down, passed us going toward the Atlantic. As we neared Pedro Miguel lock, we rafted back up to Gavin. The remaining 3 locks, one at Pedro Miguel and 2 at Miraflores, were absent of turbulence as we slowly descended to the Pacific. Again, a perfect downward elevator ride.
A little sidenote: we've heard many colorful stories about advisors, the Canal employees who join private vessels to transit the locks. Our two, Francisco and Ricky, were helpful, knowledgeable, and really pleasant to have on board. They made our trip enjoyable and flawless. To our voluntary crew, Don, Andre and Frank, THANK YOU so much for your company, conversation and all-out physical labor! We loved having you as part of the Zen family.