Trying To Figure Out What To Do When We Grow Up!

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Sat 5 Mar 2016 22:35

​08:56.0N  73:35.0W​

Dear Friends, this is our latest blog. We love to hear from you so please send a separate email to say hello.  If you hit “reply” it will send all the pictures back. Our limited bandwidth onboard Peregrina will be overwhelmed. But please do write.


Where in the World are Margie and Peter?

Trying to Figure Out What to Do When We Grow Up!

Peter has been, not so quietly, pointing out that it’s time for me to channel my inner Christopher Columbus and write about our most recent traveling adventures.  Looking back through our photos, it’s clear that we’ve been in Panama for quite a long time. (Yikes!  We arrived in May of 2015!) 

Unfortunately, we haven’t been reporting back to all of our loyal followers very often.  Perhaps, it was just laziness but I think there was a period after we finished our circumnavigation where we really didn’t know what to do with ourselves and, after years of “heading west” we were kind of stumped as to what to do next!  Yes, there was a bit of disagreement aboard the good ship, Peregrina!

Never fear, dear readers, we have kinda, sorta worked out a plan!  Not a schedule, by any means, but a plan that we think will work well for us over the course of the next year or two…

Despite the ENORMOUS desire to throw caution to the wind and chart a course across the Pacific Ocean again, we have decided to make a sharp right hand turn and head up the western coast of Central America to Mexico and the beautiful Sea of Cortez.   Many of our cruising friends are shaking their heads at this decision as it is going against wind and current. What’s more, we will have to have to deal with two major weather systems, the infamous Papagayos winds between Costa Rica and Nicaragua and the Tehuantepec shotgun blasts in Mexico.

We’ll just do the best weather planning possible and hope for a smooth ride.

The truth is, we are really loving it here in Central America where we can speak Spanish and experience many different cultures and communities. We are energized at the thought of visiting Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and, ultimately, Mexico over the course of the next few months.  Our plan (always subject to change) is to reach La Paz, Mexico at the mouth of the Sea of Cortez by June or July so that we can find a safe haven during Hurricane Season.

So, now that that’s settled, let me step back and tell you about our Panama Canal transit two weeks ago... 

Yes, it was a bit of déjà vu as Peregrina motored out of Shelter Bay Marina on February 11, 2016 towards the point where we would pick up our Panama Canal “Advisor” and begin the transit through the Canal for a second time in six years.  (FYI - Large commercial vessels get a “Pilot” on board who actually steers the vessel through the Canal. Cruising boats, like Peregrina, are assigned an “Advisor” who comes along and offers suggestions to the Captain but does not take the wheel. )

Aboard Peregrina, we had our good friends from the Matheson Hammock Yacht Club, Tom Washburn and Tina Nobili, who had flown down from Miami to see a bit of Panama and help us as “line-handlers” through the Canal.  Here’s a picture of the four of us on hike on the beautiful island of Taboga.

We had a great time during their visit and they were a big help during the Canal transit.  Of course, first off, Tom felt it would be a good idea to give Tina some instructions in tying a bowline. 

After a number of frustrating attempts, Tina showed Tom that, while she struggled with the bowline, she was quite adept at a noose!

To remind you, the Panama Canal currently has two sets of locks with three chambers each.  The Gatun Locks are on the Atlantic side and the Miraflores Locks are on the Pacific side. In the middle is Lake Gatan.

The Panama Canal and all related structures were completed by the Americans in 1914 after a failed effort by France which was led by Count Ferdinand de Lesseps in 1889. De Lesseps had previously been successful opening the Suez Canal.

There are two channels in the Canal so traffic can go either way.  Notice the swinging doors.

When the Americans took over construction of the Canal in 1904, they faced a monumental task.  It was a work project on a scale never seen before in the modern world. The geology of the Isthmus, which made landslides a constant threat; the enormity of the locks and the sheer volume of the excavation required as well as the harsh climate and tropical diseases that plagued the French were all challenges that sparked American ingenuity .  It took 10 years, 75,000 men and women and almost $400 million to complete the task but the Panama Canal opened in August of 1914 (under budget and earlier than projected) and the locks have performed flawlessly 24/7 for more than 100 years.

We began our transit, as we had done six years previously, from the Atlantic side.  Cruising vessels, like Peregrina, are often rafted together and/or nestled up to smaller excursion boats.  We transited the Gatun Locks with a Beneteau 42 on our Starboard side. Peregrina, being the larger vessel, drove the raft.

The Panama Canal Authority kept us waiting quite a long time that first afternoon and it was dark by the time we transited. 


We entered the Canal behind the auspiciously-named, Greek cargo ship, XpiTINA, and moved into the first of three locks leading up to Gatun Lake where we would spend the night.  Here you can see our other volunteer line-handler, David Choate.  We met David at Shelter Bay Marina.  He’s aboard the S/V Argonauta, a Tayana 48. 

Heading through the Gatun Locks, we were behind the cargo vessel, Xpitina. Notice the water swirling as the lock fills up.

The six chambers are 110 feet wide and 1,000 feet long.  At Gatun, vessels are raised a total of 84 feet in the three chambers.  After the third lock, vessels exit the system and proceed to Gatun Lake, which I believe is still the largest man-made lake in the world.

We spent the rest of the night on a mooring ball waiting for “first light” when we would motor 20 miles across Gatun Lake and then through the 7.5 mile Gaillard Cut, the most dangerous stretch of the construction project (way back when) because of its treacherous curves and steep walls.

History buffs will find this bit of Panama Canal trivia interesting…

Working alongside the latest in modern construction equipment to keep the current Panama Canal operating is a 75-year-old floating crane known as “Titan.” It was built in 1941 by Hitler's Germany to lift U-Boat submarines and claimed by the United States as war booty. Titan entered service in Panama in 1999 after having served for 50 years in Long Beach, California. The crane can be floated into the locks of the Panama Canal and is used for the heavy lifting required to maintain the doors of the locks of the canal. It can lift 350 metric tons and is still one of the "strongest" cranes in the world.

As noted, in most cases, a MUCH larger cargo ship, car carrier, cruise ship or possibly a small tanker will be assigned to the same lock. 

Passing through the Miraflores Locks, we were in front of the MASSIVE car carrier, M/V Dalian Highway. 

Approaching our stern, the impressive Dalian Highway towered over Peregrina.

Commercial vessels are pulled through the locks by “mules” which ride on rails on the walls of the canal and are attached to the vessels with heavy steel cables.

Cruising boats, like Peregrina, drive themselves through the series of locks.  By law, we must have four line-handlers onboard.  Each is responsible for one, heavy-gage 150 foot line.  A Panamanian line-handler above throws a “monkey fist” with a light line attached and then pulls the cruising boat’s heavy line up to fasten on to cleats on the lock wall. As each lock raises or lowers the amount of water needed, line-handlers on the boat tighten and slacken the lines from the boat to the wall above to keep us safely in the middle of the lock.  Mishandling of these lines can mean a boat will drift to one side or another and, more than likely incur significant damage.  Once the locks open, the Panamanian line-handlers slacken the lines and the boat proceeds under its’ own power to the next lock or out into their respective oceans.

The first of the Pacific Miraflores Locks, called Pedro Miguel, lowers vessels approximately 30 feet.  After that, the next two Miraflores Locks, lower ships gradually to sea level.  The distance varies according to the tides on the Pacific side which can rise or fall up to 16 feet.  In order to accommodate those variations, the gates of the Miraflores Locks are the Canal’s tallest so that they can adjust the water level accordingly.

Entering the Pacific, we motored to an anchorage called La Playita where we celebrated our 1st and 2nd successful transits of the Panama Canal.

But, is that the END of the story?

Well, not quite…

There’s a NEW set of locks under construction at the Panama Canal by a consortium made up of Sacyr Vallehermoso of Spain as its head and three other mega-builders:  Impregilo of Italy, Jan De Nul of Belgium and Constructura Urbana, SA of Panama.  (Note the absence of an American construction company here) 

The new locks are now scheduled to open in May of 2016 following many delays.

This new set of locks will create an additional lane of traffic along the Canal which will double the waterway’s capacity.  However, the project is over two years behind schedule and carrying billions of dollars in cost overruns.  (Original projected cost was $5.25 billion but delays and extra costs have added another $3.2 billion!)  Lawyers on both sides are having a field day suing each other and, to top it off, the structure leaked like a sieve!

The new locks are designed to accommodate the next generation of wide-beam Panamax vessels that have been built expressly for transiting via the new Panama Canal locks.  The chambers inside the locks will be 1400 feet long, 180 feet wide and 60 feet deep.

We had hoped to see the new locks in action as they are designed dramatically different from the original American concept.  Think about the originals as double doors automatically opening and closing at the same time.  The new locks will open like sliding “pocket doors” that disappear sideways on rails into the wall.

Only time will tell how this new system works, but as they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”  We have “pocket doors” at our house in Miami and they jam all the time!

Panama went through a very convoluted bidding process to identify the winning proposal for the construction of the new locks - a tender process that involved a “thorough technical and pricing evaluation.” The contract winner was selected based on the “non-negotiated best value proposal.”


Perhaps they should have gone with their tried and true friend north of the border whose originally lock system hasn’t failed once in 104 years! 

When it comes to shopping for Panama Canals, I'm Just Sayin’…






Peter Benziger
I haven't been everywhere but it's on my list