Captain Big Bear
with the Gatun Locks behind him
When we crossed the Atlantic in January 2009,
I asked Bear for his thoughts to put into a blog. The Panama Canal is such a
major step in any circumnavigation so for this special occasion, I asked Bear to
write his own blog OH - in his own words. He
emailed them to me and I have added them below. Unchanged but for a few pictures
Transiting the Panama Canal from the
Atlantic to Pacific Oceans in our own boat is a BIG deal to me. It puts us
through a kind of porthole into a new, exciting travel dimension to visit far
off exotica places of dreams now to become realities.
It is a very emotional
change somehow putting us well beyond easy return to Europe and the UK for the
rest of the year.
Physically and practically part of it is awe inspiring but
much is very straightforward, although needing to be organised. Perhaps that is
the main hurdle as the yachtie life by nature lends itself to much spontaneity
as opposed to careful planning!
The first thing to note coming in from the
Caribbean side is the lack of choice and the expense of the whole process.
Anchoring is no longer a viable option so using Shelter Bay Marina is almost
obligatory, but makes preparing the boat etc. very much easier. We opted to use
an agent to organise our transit and used Erick. The pros are greater than I had
thought. For his fee (£225) he is a great source of info, spends time talking it
through, and deals with all the officials and admin. This saves several journeys
into Colon and chasing the appropriate officials etc., and you know he will get
it right. His fee also includes tyre fenders and the four long lines required
(otherwise needing to be hired for about $100). Using an agent also means no
$800 bond is required. Although this is refunded the time scale is many weeks.
He also helped us with immigration and customs - which here is a very variable
feast. It is not a cheap process but I reckon the cost saving by doing it
yourself is pretty minimal if any.
The day after our arrival Erick visited us
and the following day the "Admeasurer" came to measure Beez dimensions, fill in
forms, agree what we would accept in terms of type of transit (tug, rafting,
centre-lock but, as he also suggested, not side tying), our motoring speed, as
well as facilities such as toilets and water to drink. We were then given a copy
of this and a card with our official transit number.
After this officialdom
we emailed our agent saying we were ready to transit. Date set, this gave us
plenty of time to prepare vittals, chill out, as well as regular ATM's visits as
cash is the only way of paying all the fees! The only thing we had to do
A) ask other yachties if they would linehandle for us (we could pay
extra to Erick who could have organised professional line handlers for $100
B) To linehandle for another yacht to give us an idea of what was
C) Pepe to prepare food for the advisor and all aboard for the
twenty four transit.
tidying up to free up sleeping space.
The tyres and
lines duly arrived two days before our transit date so much excitement
for us both.
The transit itself is much easier going than imagined.
Nothing seemed to be rushed. Our Up lock time was emailed to us for 4pm though
we had a few fifteen minute changes over the last few minutes, with a request
that we be anchored on the "Flats" (the waiting area) by one o’clock. A
leisurely exit from the marina (slightly heart in mouth as we had a new,
different propeller fitted of untried characteristics), then a slow motor
through the big boats reporting in to Cristobel Control as required before
anchoring then waiting for our advisor to arrive at around 4pm. Much food
nibbling and chatting calmed any nerves.
Our advisor, Ricky, arrived on time
and immediately got us to up anchor and motor the three miles to the Gatun
were to be control boat with Zebedee tied to us. To
me the locks themselves where not as vast as I had imagined. They are very long,
but their width was not dramatic and the shoreside line handlers with their
accurate monkey throws made the whole process much easier than doing it all
yourself in some of the French locks. It was however quite strenuous work on the
ropes, and what was really impressive was the way the huge container ships and
cruise ships squeeze in with inches to spare.
As on our practice run we got
through just as it went dark and we quickly motored over to a large overnight
buoy and tied up under the watchful directions of Ricky before he left on the
The up locks are the hardest so great food from Pepe and
several beers before bedding down - we were in the cockpit as it was to be a
Sure enough it was still dark
when are new advisor arrived at six am and got us moving swiftly off the buoy as
dawn broke. We then motored across the the man-made Gatun Lake through the well
marked channel but giving way to the very big chaps passing very closely by! It
was very thrilling with many islands covered in all sorts of exotic plants/trees
and wildlife. We were however anxiously watching the little junk rigged Zebedee
behind us as he motor sailed along using Baby Beez 9.8Hp outboard fixed onto his
The down locks were much less strenuous, but we went through the
first early, rafted to a similar sized Swedish boat - both helms acting as half
a catamaran. No Zebedee in sight.
We then motored one mile across a
small lake into the final lock pair - and waited, having lunch in the lock, as
Zebedee caught us up doing all her own lines. Huge cheers all round as she completed her eight year
circumnavigation with for the first time ever a motor!!
Great excitement for us
also as our adviser phoned the web cam control to focus on us and Moth texting
to say she could see us. Great photos from Moth - thank you so much.
Then down the two locks and
finally into the Pacific Ocean with the famous Bridge of the
Americas right in front of us.
All IN ALL a fantastic and exciting
experience - I wouldn't have missed it for the world. And well done helm - new
prop, challenging actions by others, coped with perfectly without drama or
waver. My Brilliant First Mate.
Thank You for your kind all in all
Bear, but it was Teamwork xx