Panama Canal Transit

Mon 27 Jan 2014 23:45

25-26th January

The (second) most incredible experience ever. The Colon side of the canal comprises 3 huge locks called the Gatan locks, you move uphill 85 ft.  We have to raft up in threes to go through, we are rafted or rather 'nesting' as they call it, with the two other Discoverys, Brizo and Seaduced, who are sailing buddies and love to talk on the SSB all the time. " Brizo this is Seaduced, come in Seaduced this is Brizo"…..all the time, we find it hilarious. Actually getting into your nest in a strong current and with tankers either side is a mission which we managed with lots of shouting of conflicting instructions from all 3 boat crews!!

We then drift rather uncontrollably towards the lock and the line handlers throw ropes we tie on to steady the nest. When the lock is full of all 11 yachts, the great gates close and the lock bubbles up with water lifting us rapidly to the top, the line handlers hauling in the ropes to keep steady. In the second chamber we got a swerve on and Seaduced bashed her bum on the wall ….. ooooops!!

Adding to the fun the first 3 locks we transited in the dark, here we are bubbling up in spotlights.
After the Gatun locks we arrived in Gatun lake, one of the biggest man made lakes in the world and found a huge buoy to tie up to in the dark which was interesting.  James decided to jump onto it to help operations.  It was baking hot on the lake with no wind and we lay in our cabins with wet flannels and lots of mozzie spray. Dengue fever is prevalent here.
Woken next day at dawn as a new pilot arrived to guide us the rest of the way.  This involved motoring along in single file, all 11 boats across the lake, with jungle banks.  After some hours we came to the narrow Gaillard Cut where most of the 10,000 canal diggers died of fever and heat exhaustion. They had to blast through rock and Contractors Hill which took many years to cut through and remove, it was stinking hot by this time and we felt some affinity with those poor buggers who built the canal 100 years ago.
We then had more locks to handle but by this time felt quite confident, and managed to keep on course. I waved at every web cam and had a towel with "Hi from Hebe - Love You" written on it.
Then under the Centenary Bridge and eventually the Bridge of The Americas and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Imo and I blasted the fog horn as we went under it shrieking with delight and cheering.

The Pacific side immediately felt different, deciduous trees instead of jungle and palms, drier air and a fierce heat that cools in the evening. There's a big tide as well, the first tide we have seen since Madeira.