The second day was a charm for getting started through the canal transit. We had a total of 6 people onboard, soon to be 7 when the advisor shows up. For boats over 65 feet they each get a Canal Pilot. The pilot takes over control of the ship. For shorter boats they receive a Canal Advisor. The advisor advises the captain on canal issues and what and when to do things. Boats that are less than 65 feet are handline vessels. This means that helpers on the locks throw down light lines with monkey fists tied to the end. Then 3/4 inch to 1 inch 125 ft lines are tied to the monkey fists and brought up to the lock sides where they are made fast to bollards and then controlled from the boat side.
We showed up in front of the Balboa Yacht Club at about 8:00am to await our advisor. This is the same spot in front of the Bridge of the Americas that we waited at the day before. Lots of big ship traffic headed past us for the Canal or for the Port of Balboa. Here’s the Cape Race about to pickup her tugs. Tugs go for $3,000 an hour here – fortunately the sailboats don’t need them.
We got a VHF call from Flamenco Signal informing us that our advisor would arrive at 8:45. Here’s his delivery boat heading our way at 9:30.
That’s are advisor, Francisco, in the white shirt, about to leap to Ann Lucia.
We were off into the channel immediately and then under the Bridge of the Americas.
We saw a number of these buoys that have obviously been hit by passing boats. This one is just under the bridge.
Ken, Ann Lucia’s owner, checking the channel ahead. Behind him is a large canal dredge.
Entering the Mira Flores locks with our advisor, white hat, eyeing the way in. We will be side tying to the large steel hull boat that is tied to the right lock wall. Ahead of him you can see a multi-million dollar sportfisher that will go through this lock center lock. This means that they pass lines from each corner of the boat to the lock walls and control the boat to stay in the center. We’ll meet these guys latter in the down locks.
The goes up locks are much more turbulent than the goes down locks.
Breaking up the nesting in the rain. It rained pretty continuously for the first few locks. There are 3 up locks, the first is a double, followed by a single lock. At the Atlantic side of the canal there are 3 down locks, as a triple.
Here’s Tom off Sunnyside concentrating on getting us away from the nest while Carolyn controls the stern line.
The big ships use the locomotives, known as mules, to hold their lines to ensure they stay center of the clock. It looks like they have about 3 to 6 feet free from the lock wall on each side of the monsters. The mules are parked at the end of the quay waiting for the next paid transit.
The repair shop for the mules.
After you exit the third up lock at the Pedro Miguel Locks you enter the Gaillard Cut. It then passes under the Centenario Bridge.
The construction of the Pedro Miguel Locks in 1911.
The SS Ancon, first ship to transit the canal.
Getting closer to the Centenario Bridge, still in the drizzle.
The Gaillard Cut is pretty narrow. Here’s a car carrier with its tug escort passing us.
You have to serve your advisor a decent meal. If there isn’t a meal onboard, they can call out for one and have it delivered to the boat by the canal work boats at your expense. Francisco seemed to enjoy his beef stew and Balboa beer.
A canal work boat heading toward us.
When transiting from the Pacific to the Caribbean side of the canal, South to North, you can sometimes make it in one day if you get some luck with the locks and your boat is fast enough. Otherwise you anchor for the night in Lake Gatun. Above is the Banana Channel Shortcut. It cuts across Lake Gatun and saves maybe an hour of travel time for small boats. Our advisor had us take the Banana Channel so we could try and make the last handline lock down of the day and complete the transit in one day.
Banana Channel guard.
When we arrived at the Lake Gatun anchorage there were 2 or 3 freighters and this car carrier. Only a deluded naval architect could come up with the name for this ship – pretty she ain’t. The sportfisher that entered the original lock with us and a Panamanian go-fast boat were also in the anchorage. There was lot of distressed discussion among the handline boat advisors as to how we would all enter the Gatun down locks. The sportfisher wanted to go center lock alone, the go-fast wanted to go sidewall tied and we needed to raft with someone, as they don’t let sailboats go sidewall and there wasn’t enough room for multiple center lock hand line boats.
Here’s our lock down partner, the tanker Maersk Misaki, picking up their tugs to enter the lock. On the down locks the handline boats enter first, then the big guy behind us.
Sylvia having a good time waiting for the next moment of ‘excitement’. The locking is relatively boring and low-key, interrupted by moments of shear terror. You can see the tanker approaching the side wall and the go-fast boat getting into position.
The tanker is picking up her starboard side mules. You can see the lines from the bow to the locomotive. We have finally all agreed that the sportfishers would go in the center, the go fast boat on the right side and we will be on the left, all nested together. This pristine sportfisher didn’t have a single fender out. If you look over Sylvia’s head you can see the blown up small raft sitting on top their solar panels. This is to protect them from the monkey fists that are thrown down.
The double gates open and we all move forward in a single raft to the next down lock.
Finally the last lock. It is getting near dark and the lights are on. In the distance is the city of Colon. We head to the Flats Anchorage off Colon to drop off our advisor. He seemed ready to get home. It was dark now and we needed to thread our way across the channel and through the ship anchorage to find Shelter Bay Marina.
Ken, the happy skipper, and Ann Lucia tied up safely at Shelter Bay Marina. I’m sure Ken slept well this night.