Transiting the Panama Canal

Mark & Sue Owen
Sat 7 Mar 2015 17:26

09:20.58N 79:54.69W


On leaving Shelter Bay Marina we headed over to The Flats anchorage where we were due to pick up our adviser.  There were various yachts in the anchorage and we were expecting to be rafted up to two others for the transit.  When the pilot was ready to come on board we had to weigh anchor and approach the pilot vessel, a tricky little manoeuvre in high winds and choppy waters, but this was achieved without incident and we were soon making our way over to the canal entrance with our adviser on board.


Anchored in The Flats Anchorage and waiting for our pilot (Katie & Mark, Jeff and Ricky):






Approaching the Pilot Vessel to collect our adviser Fernando Brown, then following Schweiz Reefer, the ship with which we’d be sharing the locks:





By the time we were rafting up not only was it very windy, but there was a strong current running and it was getting dark.  We had a large, powerful sports fishing vessel in the centre of the raft and skipper chose to raft up on Macushla’s port side; so with Ricky and Jeff manning the mooring lines and Sue and Katie with our large inflatable Avon fenders, the raft up went very smoothly indeed and we were then heading into the first of three locks, known collectively as the Gatun Locks.


Our trip through the Panama Canal was what is called a handline transit.  While entering the Gatun Locks light lines with weighted monkey fists were thrown on to Macushla’s deck from the ashore and these ‘messenger’ lines were attached to the heavy lines at the bow and stern, which were then pulled upwards and placed over a bollard.  Ricky and Jeff did a great job manning these lines to ensure we stayed central in the lock as the water level rose.  Once the chamber was full, the adviser gave the instruction to move in to the next lock, maintaining the rafted configuration, and the heavy lines were pulled in, but the messenger lines remained connected and onshore line handlers walked with these lines through to the next lock.


On exiting the third lock the raft separated and we motored over to a buoy in Gatun Lake where we rafted up to a catamaran for the night. Arrival beers tasted very good!