The Panama Canal 2 - Pacific Ocean

Blue Sky's Voyage
George & Michael
Fri 18 Dec 2009 21:47
Hello Friends                "8:56.25N 79:33.41W"
I'm pleased to report that we're comfortably tied up to a mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club at the Pacific entrance to the Canal and though it's 0800, the rest of the crew are still sound asleep after properly celebrating our successful transit over the last two days.
Here's what happened:
We started out from the marina at Shelter Bay soon after lunch, to await our Advisor at 'The Flats' anchorage off Colon town. Larger boats (over 125 feet) have a Pilot on board for the transit and the Pilot takes full responsibility for the vessel. Smaller boats have an Advisor, who does just that and the skipper retains responsibility.
We knew we were to transit with another boat - 'Tumshi', a 41ft catamaran and we'd had a  drink together the previous evening to get to know each other before the transit. Once the Advisors were on board both vessels, we motored towards Gatun locks to tie together ('raft up') before entering the locks.
Here we are in the afternoon sun just rafting up a few hundred metres north of Gatun locks.
Gatun locks are a triple flight - effectively with 4 gates, though some are doubled up for safety and maintenance - which take you up the 80 or so feet to Gatun Lake. We shared the locks with 'Zenit' a smallish freighter - here we are just tucking in behind at the bottom of the flight.
Larger ships have wire hawsers attached to 'mules' - the railway locomotives which tow the ships through the locks. Smaller boats are 'handlined' through and the Canal staff throw a monkey's fist (knot) and messenger line on to the yacht, which you then tie to your large mooring warps so the Canal staff can pull that up and drop a loop in the end over a bollard on the dock wall. Having done that, it's then up to the yachts to adjust the lines as the water level changes, to keep the yachts in the centre of the chamber. There are 4 lines, bow & stern each side, but as we were rafted with 'Tumshi', they handled the port side of the raft and we the starboard. This is quite convenient as you need to be fairly fit & strong to adjust the lines against the turbulence in the lock and Alex and Matt were fine for the job.
The rise through Gatun locks is the hardest part, as you have to pull the lines in as the boat rises. After each lift, the mooring lines are pulled back on board and the Canal staff walk along next to the yacht, holding just the messenger line. Once in the next chamber, you do it all again.
As must be clear by now, all went without a hitch and this is the view north, down towards the Caribbean from the top lock.
We took a mooring in Gatun Lake for the night and, by choice, we rafted up with 'Tumshi' who had prepared 'Kaiserschmorren' for dessert for us all. The night in the Lake was rather still and no one slept too well knowing that we had another long day's work ahead.
In the morning 'Tumshi's Advisor turned up bright and early before 0700 and they set off immediately. We began to think we'd been forgotten but our Advisor arrived an hour later and off we set at a brisk speed - 28 miles to Pedro Miguel locks where we were supposed to be in 4 hours. Fortunately we'd serviced the engine in Shelter Bay and all was fine with about 7.2 knots at 2750 rpm from our trusty Yanmar 75hp. 'Tumshi' took the 'Banana Channel'  shortcut through the Lake but our Advisor wanted us to use the main channel with our greater draft.
Here we are enjoying lunch approaching the Gaillard Cut and the Centennial Bridge in the distance.
The distant structure to the R of the mast is a barge and dredger - there is a lot of work in progress widening and deepening the Canal and rounding off the corners of the channel in Gatun Lake in preparation for the Canal expansion over the next few years.
We caught up with 'Tumshi' right on time just before Pedro Miguel locks - a single lock which takes you down to the small Miraflores Lake. Through Pedro Miguel and the double set of Miraflores Locks, we shared the chamber with 'Little Prince' a bulk carrier of Panamax beam (103 feet) but fortunately not length, so there was space for us in front. Here's the excellent webcam photo looking into Miraflores locks from the top of the visitor centre, Pedro Miguel lock on the distant right and the Centennial Bridge and Gaillard Cut in the far distance. Photo credits to Michael's big brother Dave, watching our progress from Shropshire, UK - many thanks Dave!
The bow of 'Little Prince' looks a long way from us in this photo, but it looked awfully big & close from the cockpit of Blue Sky.
Here's a shot of the lock gates opening between the 2 chambers at Miraflores, which gives some idea of the scale of the structures.
Our Advisor was picked up by the ACP launch just before the Bridge of the Americas, marking our triumphant progress through to The Pacific Ocean, which will we hope provide material for some entertaining blogs over the next year or so.
So thanks to just about everyone - Alex and Matt for being fantastic linehandlers, George for splendid lunch support, Laurence for providing the glamour, Astro and Adrien - our Advisors and to Freidl and Angelika on 'Tumshi' and probably to Michael as skipper too!
The last shot shows that we weren't too stressed and actually enjoyed the transit. Something we'll remember for a long time.
Now we're off for a little shopping in Panama City, then sightseeing tomorrow, before sailing south to Las Perlas for Christmas, anniversaries and birthdays. if we survive the partying then another blog will appear soon.
Very best wishes to all our blog readers for the Festive Season and for a great 2010.
Michael, George, Alex, Matt and Laurence.
PS. now 0900 and the crew have surfaced for breakfast !