150214 - Transiting the Panama Canal

By Thomas Römer/OpenStreetMap data, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19678675

Tick that one off the list - we have now transited the Panama Canal entering at the Atlantic Ocean side and arriving some three locks later into the Pacific Ocean. The Panama Canal was initially started in the 1880s by the French but construction was unsuccessful and it was not until the period of 1904 - 1914 under US direction that the canal was successfully completed and opened for transit of traffic.

Although you do not have to officially engage an agent to assist in your passage through the canal - the fee for the agent becomes insignificant compared to the Bond you need to place if wishing to transit independently and then of course there is the issue of ensuring you have the timely return of your bond after transit. 

Hans and Liv used the services of Roy Bravo as the Canal agent who started out informative, became somewhat lacsadasical, then attentive when the discussion of writing a review of his services and recommendations for future travellers was mentioned. Roy organised the Canal Pilot and the additional rope handler that we required. Each boat must have four line handlers onboard in addition to the skipper along with the Canal Pilot. 

140213 6 Hans and Andrew

We headed out from Fort Sherman around 3pm complete with our line handler Rick, black wrapped plastic tyres and four forty meter long 20mm thick mooring lines for the lock. We motored to an area known as "The Flats" where we awaited the arrival by boat of our Pilot Franklin a rather quiet happy gentleman who was most impressed with our bbq sausage wraps. 

From The Flats it was a short motor in procession with the cargo ship Belgium Reefer, Remi-De a catamaran from Southport Australia and a smaller Canadian monohull. Just prior to the Gatun Lock we rafted up with Remi-De in the centre of the nest and the two monos either side. 

140213 26 Gate Closure140213 36 More Rising turbulance140214 22 Line handlers140214 7 Passing Traffic Gatun Lake

The process for each lock was the same upon entry into the Lock

- the dock line handlers throw a monkey fist down to the boat

- the bow and stern line handlers on the yacht secure the two lines together than start feeding it out under the direction of the dock line handler

- whilst the centre boat is motoring the raft forward into the lock the Dock line handlers walk forward then secure the line to a mooring cleat. 

- at that point you hope you have a good winch or cleat onto which you tie the line as the water is either raised or dropped dependent on which end of the canal you are in. 

In each of the Gatun Locks we rose some 24 meters - the turbulence as the water was pumped into the lock was tremendous and caused a lost of problems for the smaller mono haul who could not take the pressure of the large lines and ended up taking out a cleat. 

140214 27 THe Miraflores Locks one lock before the Pacific

From the Gatun Lock we motored out to a mooring bouy on the Gatun lake alongside Remi-De pleased to have the first part of the transit completed and to be secured by 8pm at night.

Friday 14th anticipating an early start we were up around 7am ready to depart only to find out our Pilot was not coming back until 9am. That set the pattern for the day as we found we were constantly being requested to slow down and had to wait for permission to enter the locks. 

The transit across the Gatun Lake is around miles and took some five hours as we were trying to go a slow as possible. We rafted again as we had done the day prior but this time we put the lines only onto the Catamaran and Andante, leaving the smaller mono just to come a long for the ride. 

In the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks the water was lowered but the turbulence was nothing in comparison to the night before. FInally around 5.30pm we exited into the Pacific Ocean. 

With the assistance of Rick we were able to secure a mooring Bouy at Balboa Yacht Club and by 6pm champagne had been opened to celebrate Andantes entry into the Pacific. 

140214 37 TIme to celebrate Andante in the Pacific

Time to celebrate we have arrived into the Pacific

(Click for more photos of Panama Canal transit)

© SV Katherine 2018      Cover Photo: Katherine on Anchor Isle Tabarca Spain