Astra Blog: Panama Canal Transit and George's Birthday 17/ 04/08 - 23/04/08
From Thursday 17th we had allowed 3 days before transiting the Canal which Jeremy had cleverly arranged to take place on George’s birthday, April 20th. As our original date was the 24th which was moved forward to the 22nd which, in turn, was advanced to the 20th, we were not unduly surprised when we received a phone call asking if we would be prepared to transit on the next day, the 18th. With a view to gaining a couple of extra days in the Pacific, Jeremy accepted. Jeremy and Ash readied the boat whilst Sally and George made numerous heavy-laden shopping trips to keep us going for the next few months. It was a frantic 24 hours, but somehow we managed to get all the provisioning done and stowed away, all the ‘boat jobs’ done and acquire an extra line-handler, the affable Graham.
The Gatún Locks are the largest in the world and raised
Astra 85ft in 3 stages to the level
The first lock was fairly intimidating, we entered the
1000ft long 106ft wide chamber behind a “medium” sized cargo ship. Our locklines went up almost vertically
and as water started to surge into the lock to raise us, they came under some
serious tension (52million gallons of water is required to move one ship from
On leaving the third lock we entered
At 7am we were awoken by the sound of the pilot boat
delivering our new advisor. He was
a very friendly chap called René who was in fact a proper pilot who worked in
the office; he had very kindly nominated himself for the job on double pay to
fill in for somebody. We set off at
speed in order to motor the 30 miles across
As we went along enjoying the impressive scenery, Renée
read the newspaper and we managed to squeeze a cheeky game of scrabble in before
a large “Full English Breakfast” at 10.30.
We only just managed to devour this sumptuous feast before it was time to
secure the “little nipper” alongside and enter the next lock. This time Sally and George were also
pressed into service as line handlers as all four lock lines would have to be
controlled by Astra. Ash and Sally managed the stern lines
while George and Graham gave almost their full attention to the bow lines. In this lock we dropped 31 feet down to
Once clear of the channel a pilot boat picked up Renée
and we cast off Melopee quickly
leaving them behind. All appeared
to be going fantastically until we noticed that our pilot had left his high-tech
radio on board. So we spun round
and charged back towards the canal.
Finally we managed to track down a rather embarrassed but grateful pilot
in the official ACP Pilot building, then we headed off towards Balboa Yacht
Club. Somehow we still managed to
arrive there at the same time as Melopee!? Anyway it was there that we got rid of
the huge tyres and locklines which
Ash, George and Graham (who had decided to stick around
for George’s birthday) wasted no time in heading for their favorite haunts in
The following evening Sally and Jeremy took us all out for dinner to celebrate George’s birthday (and Ash’s belated birthday). It was a delicious meal and a great time was had by all, before tired and bursting at the seams, we headed back to Astra for some much needed rest.
In the morning, Graham said his goodbyes and for some crazy reason headed back to Colón!? The rest of the time was taken up by making several sorties a day into the centre to purchase the entire Central American supply of Gin, Rum, fishing lures and Manchego cheese! Our original plan to depart for the Galapagos on the evening of the 22nd was scuppered by an unhelpful individual who would not give us the dinghy propeller we had ordered because although it was in the shop, he had not yet checked it in!? Ridiculous. Anyway after Jeremy had had a drink to calm down, we decided to pick it up in the morning and then head straight off.
We are pleased to report that Astra and her four crew members departed for the Galapagos at 1347 local time today (23/04).