We've done the Panama Canal!

Rumpelteazer Pacific Crossing
Robert Holbrook
Tue 19 Feb 2008 11:46



We got to the Flats off Colon in good time on Saturday evening.  Our Canal Adviser – Elvir, a canal engineer acting as an Adviser on his day off – was put aboard Rumpelteazer from a pilot boat at around 6.45pm.  We set off for the Gatun Locks - the four of us plus Elvir and our fourth ‘line handler’, Stuart Mossop (owner of Nomad, a Rival 41 parked near us in the Shelter Bay marina). 




Going through the Gatun Locks was an incredible experience – our night-time pics don’t really do it justice.  We went into the first lock at around 8.45pm, rafted up with a Swan 51 in the middle and another catamaran, Maverick Dream, on the other side.  There was a Moldovian freighter ahead of us in the lock. 




When the three locks filled, we were buffeted by the incoming streams of water – more like being in a Jacuzzi than in a lock.  From time to time, Rumpelteazer swung worrying close to the huge concrete walls of the locks, but our main line-handlers (Andy and Max) and Captain Robert kept their cool.






We stayed rafted up with the other two yachts for more than two hours until leaving the third Gatun lock at around 11.15pm.  In total the three locks took us up 85 feet from sea level.


Elvir left us once we got through the final lock and were anchored in the Gatun Lakes for the night.  The water is incredible deep (80ft) and we had to anchor close to the shore (and the jungle with lots of mosquitos) in 40ft.  Fortunately the mosquitos mostly kept away during the night.  We were up again early yesterday morning and Andy decided to take a swim, bravely defying the alligators.  Another Adviser – Jose – came on board at 6.45 to take us through the buoyed passage across the Gatun Lakes and ultimately through the three locks before Panama City




It seems incredible that there is so much (fresh) water up here, and in the midst of dense jungle.  From time to time, HUGE container ships or car carriers passed us on their way north.





At one stage we were travelling at speed along a straight stretch of water before we got to the first of the final locks, when a dredger began hooting at us.  We assumed this meant ‘slow down’ or even ‘stop’, so we did the latter.  Ten seconds later an enormous explosion took place under the water about 200 yards ahead of us, sending a spray of water 30 feet into the air.  We were glad we had decided to stop. [Note to Max's mum - he's fine!].  There's just a lot of work going on widening the Canal




We finally entered the Pedro Miguel lock at 12.30pm, rafted up with a smaller catamaran which made life much easier than with the ‘three-abreast’ formation of the previous night.  Going ‘down-hill’ was anyway much easier than going ‘up-hill’ - the water drained out of the locks much more gently than it had come in.  After a short trip along the canal, still connected to our new American friends on the 35 foot Fountaine Pajot Mahe catamaran, we went through the two Miraflore locks.








Once through the last of the locks, we motored under the Bridge of the Americas and out into the Pacific!




But before we set off, one final provisioning trip was required to a big supermarket for our fresh meat, and a visit to the huge Panama City fruit & veg market ….. to keep scurvy at bay.  We were hugely helped by Elvir's introduction to Roderic Quiel who runs a big provisioning business at the fruit market and who, with Francisco, sorted out our entire fruit and veg list and delivered it all to us on the jetty of the Balboa Yacht Club.




We are leaving in an hour .....Galapagos, here we come!