Friday, February 17, 2017

Passage through Panama Canal


Today is the final day, we have heard so many stories about things that happen going through the canal and some are not good. This is why it would have been better to crew another boat going through so you had some experience before you actually skipper your own boat through.

Well we have our crew to assist I have made sure we are mechanically good, if you break down on the passage through the canal you are fined for holding the system up.
We were told by Ernie when booking the boat through always say the boat can do 8.1 knots full speed, if it is less you can be charged more so they say. Fortunately we can do this speed with both engines. If for some reason you can’t on the day you blame the dirty canal that has put growth on the hull and this is slowing you down.

It was now time to have our final lunch at the marina bar and say our farewells, we have had some great times with these people and I think they have liked us because we treat them as equal to us which some sailors don’t.

Miguel was a little worried because all the staff had been joking with him about us taking him to Australia because we could make a lot of money with him being such a good waiter. He told them he can’t go he has family. He knew he was a good waiter and one day a week ago he went to the boss and asked for a raise, the boss said no. So he said he would leave and he did next two days he did not show, we believe the boss went to his house to negotiate, yes that how good he was.
(The wonderful staff at the marina, Miguel holding the bottle of wine that he got in for us, Anderson next to him at the back, I cannot remember all the names)

After saying goodbyes it was time for the crew to come aboard  and for me to show them around the boat and safety issues and what would be required of them when we go through the canal, regarding this I only know what people have told me.

The trip through the canal is in two sessions, we go through the Gatun Locks tonight and then motor through the lake and canal to Miraflores Locks tomorrow.

We left the marina and arrived at the Pond, the Pond is an anchorage area for yachts to anchor whilst waiting to go through the canal, many sailors do this rather than paying marina fees as we did.  When we arrived we anchored close by to Leigh on Mi Querida he said he was going through tonight too.

Come 1700 hours and no sign of our adviser (Pilot), they are called advisers because they are not qualified pilots they are usually tug skippers. Leigh being a little impatient calls control on the radio at 1715 hours asking about the adviser, to our surprise he is told he is not on the list to go through and to phone control on a certain number. Leigh hops in his dinghy and starts rowing, he does not have an outboard motor he rows everywhere. It is 2 NMS to the club where he can phone, I yelled out to him to come to us and use our satellite phone, which he did. There appears to be a problem with payment. What it was Leigh’s credit card is not linked to a savings account and he paid the canal passage two weeks ago, apparently when you purchase something on a sole credit card if the transaction has not been completed within ten working days the payment is cancelled.
Our card is a debit card so it is our money although we pay as a credit card, however, now we are concerned as still not adviser, we call control and they inform us that the adviser will be here soon.

We have been informed that we have to take good care of the adviser as he can make it difficult or even issue fines and we must remember we are gringos to them and they are not fond of gringos. We have to feed him and we have to have sealed bottled water for him.
I re-instruct the crew of what is expected of them, if we go through alone they will place us centre lock, this means that we have one lines person on both side of the boat fore and aft. Young Jack will assist his mother Moira on starboard bow, Will on port bow, Nancy port aft and Miriam starboard aft.

The men on the dock will throw a line down which has a monkey’s fist on the end, which means the end of the rope is made into a ball and they may have some lead inside the fist so if they hit you it will hurt, these dockies are very accurate with these and if you miss the line the first time they won’t miss you the second time. I make sure they all know how to make a bowline as that is how they have to tie the lines together.

The adviser arrives and quickly introduces himself and in the same breath said start engines and get the anchor up straight away, so we all spring into action, well the temporary crew follow Nancy around whilst she gets the anchor up and I start engines.

Anchor lifted the adviser states that we are going to go through Gatun Lock at 1800 hours and we have to go at full speed, so away we go, after about 10 minutes the advisers radio crackles and he answers, he then tells me to slow down three ships coming up behind us will go through first, they pass us, the radio goes again and he asks if we mind going through tied to a tug, I said know. This is the preferred way to go through the lock because the tug will tie up to the wall and we tie up to the tug, the tug adjust their ropes as we raise with the water level we are just tied to the tug and go with it. Next radio call, we have to hurry again then we have to slow, the tug is not going now we will be going through by ourselves, then off again then stop and we sit there and drift, finally he says we are going through with a fishing boat which we did at 2020 hours, three hours after we left the anchorage. During all this time the adviser is asking for something to eat besides the main meal and he has drunk all the bottled water that we had for tomorrow’s adviser.
(Our adviser arriving)
(One of the few ships that go through the lock before us)
(This is what it looks like when we start to enter the first lock, it is more daunting at night from being in the dark to bright lights)

He directs us to the first lock the fishing boat in ahead of us ties up and we go alongside it and tie up.  There is a very large car carrier ship in front of us, once secured the gates close and the water swirls in. The water is nor pumped in they use the water from the lake above to fill the lock, when we reach the level of the next lock the car carrier moves off, the propellers turning slowly to assist the donkeys, (Donkeys are small diesel driven engines on the dock that pull the big ships from one lock to another). We then pull away from the fishing boat and drop back whilst he leaves the wall and motors to the next dock, this occurs through the next two locks, when we go through the final lock we are directed to a place on the lake where there are some very large circular floating buoys big enough for us to tie up alongside, once secure our adviser leaves telling us that the new adviser will be here a 0600 hours in the morning make sure we have breakfast waiting for him.
(Our first adviser talking to one of the blokes on the fishing boat)
(Moira and Jack)
(Will and Miriam)
(Miriam chatting to a fisherman, she can speak Spanish)
(The crew of the fishing boat)
(Yes that is a nervous smile )

(Now in the second lock feeling a little more comfortable with that large ship in front.)
 (Here we are in the lock behind the car carrier in the yellow circle)
(Here we are moving off the fishing boat to move to the next lock)

What an experience, we decide to have a feed and a few drinks, we had allocated cabins for the temporary crew members and I said open the hatches and run the fans as it is very hot and humid, I think we crashed around 2300 hours.


We woke at 0500 hours with boat movements around us, at 0600 hours on the dot our adviser arrives and he is a very nice bloke, we ask if he is ready for breakfast  and he said let’s get underway first. Once underway I asked him how we would be going through the dock today, he replied with that yacht ahead a monohull. He asked if I could catch up with that yacht, I replied yes and did so, we just sat behind it at a safe distance at 6 knots.
Unfortunately today is a misty drizzling rainy day which spoils the beauty of the lake and the canal, we are not yet in the main canal with the big ships there is a short cut between some islands in the lake that small boats like ours can go and large ships can’t.
 (Small islands on the lake, the lake is fresh water so they say all sea life on the bottom of the hull will die and fall off)

(This is the small boat/yacht channel in the lake)

 (Now in with the big boys)
 (The adviser instructing me where to go)
 (In places the canal is narrow and we pass even closer to the bigger ships)

 (Pelicans fly by, they look a little different to what we see at home)
 (The yacht in front is what we will raft with)
(Another large one, it is surprising how many ships go through the canal each day)

Then we get to play with the big boys and they look huge when you pass close by.
When we near Miraflores Locks the adviser asks if I will be the drive boat, when you raft with the other yacht he will not use his engines is that alright, I reply with a yes. He then asks what side do you want that yacht when you raft, I reply starboard side so I can see it clearly, he said I thought so and directed the yacht to come alongside and we tied together.
We will go centre lock, which means our crews will have to control the ropes as we descend in the lock holding us dead centre, the reason for this is that they do not want us near the wall, if a large ship rubs or hits the wall there is little damage if that happened to a fibreglass or wooden yacht it could do a lot of damage or even sink with the swirling water. This is the reason we have to have tyres wrapped in plastic because they have had experience with normal fenders bursting.
 (The adviser chatting with Will, Miriam and Moira)
 (Will discussing the bowline knot after I had shown Miriam)
 (One of the working platforms in the canal, I believe this is the start of work for the widening to take super tankers)
(A bridge appears out of the mist)
(Rafted up with the other yacht)
(Rafted and waiting for ships to leave the lock)
 (Chatting with the other crew whilst we wait)
 (This is what we are waiting for these ships to move out)
(Will holding the port bow line ensuring we are in the centre)
(In the last lock)
We enter the first lock and the dockie throws one line down for us to tie both port ropes to the one line, the other yacht is looking after the starboard side. When the dockie gets the lines he has trouble untying the rope, I asked the crew who tied that bowline, Will said he had and said make sure you do it properly next time and watch out when he throws the next line. Our adviser had a chuckle, he knew what I meant.
 (Ready to leave the last lock)
(Panama Control and visitors Centre)
(Looking back into the lock)
(Bridge of the Americas)
(Our adviser leaves us)

(Jack and Will put the ropes through the mooring, look how black the rope is near Will covered in oil)

(Jack and Will want dirt money)

We were lucky as the next lock was the two locks together so we only had to do this twice not three times. The boat came out to meet our adviser near the Bridge of the Americans, which is similar shape to the Sydney Harbour Bridge without the four brick tower structures. We thanked him as he was a nice person, he used to be a ranger in the national parks around the lake of the canal and told us all about the different places as we travelled the canal.
May I say Nancy fixed the sealed water bottle problem as the advisor before drank them all, she washed the empty bottles and refilled them with water from our tanks and when the advisor asked for a drink she would hand it to him unscrewing the cap as she gave it to him, clever girl.

We proceeded to go towards the Balboa Yacht Club and pick up one of their moorings, Will and Jack tied the ropes to the mooring and came up with dirty hands, apparently there had been an oil spillage and this end of the canal was floating oil, great that is going to be on the hull and oil is not that kind to antifouling paint on the bottom.

I took the crew ashore to go back to the marina, normal routine is that you pay their bus fare back but I decided to get a taxi for Moira and Jack, I didn’t feel right putting them on a bus by themselves, Will and Miriam were going to stay in Panama City for a few days and said they would look after themselves.
(The tyres wrapped in plastic to save marking the hull)

I have to take the ropes I hired to a bloke on the dock who will get them back to the marina, I don’t know how it happened but when one of the crew transferred them to the dinghy they dragged in the water and got covered in the oil floating in the canal, when I gave them to the bloke to returned and told him he laughed, maybe he thought we did it on purpose because he knows what it cost us. The tyres I had to pay the bloke a $1.00 each for him to get rid of, which means he will sell them for $8.00 each to someone going the other way.
(Alana Rose moored in the centre, moorings cost $20 US per day, ever ytime one of those large ships pass by we rock and roll)

Well at least we are through the canal in one piece and now to enjoy a bit of Panama City.


  1. Good story. Very informative. I enjoyed enjoyed reading it.

  2. Good story. Very informative. I enjoyed enjoyed reading it.