Transit through the Panama Canal

Take Off
Jörgen Wennberg
Tue 2 Feb 2016 21:57
9.06 N   
79.41 W

The French started the digging of the Canal in the 1880, but financial trouble and diseases made the initiative fail. After the independence in 1903 from Colombia, Panama negotiates an agreement with the United States for the construction of the Canal which the U.S would finish on the 15th of August 1914 and then managed the waterway until 1999. At midnight on New Year’s Day 2000 Panama took over full operation.

In the afternoon on the 2nd of February we left Shelter Bay Marina to start our transit of the Panama Canal together with 15 boats from the World ARC fleet. 


… and some other ships too… For some of the ship’s employees our fleet was something special. We caught several of them taking pictures of us too!

Safety buoys we got the day before as we are going to be the starboard boat of our “pack” of 3 boats and we do not want to be too friendly with the Canal’s walls. Nilla and Janne enjoying this as much as all of us!


According to the Canal’s rules you are compelled to have an “Advisor” on board. We were lucky to have Fransisco. An Advisor is a volunteer and does this job on his free time. They get a special education and have to pass an exam to be an approved advisor. His job is to make sure that we work properly with the lines. 


On the plotter one can tell that we are on our way to enter the Canal: notice that we pass the Canal from West to East!


On our way we met this ship with a special cargo on board: looks like a Volvo Ocean Race boat ??


Parallel to the Canal, Panama is building a bigger new Canal to be able to transit bigger ships. For this they have realised they have to build a bridge over the Canal. The work is still yet to be finished. The picture to the right is the old canal build by the French in 1880. 


To be able to all fit in in one lock we were organised in “packs” of 3 boats. We were to be docked to the starboard side of the Swedish boat Spirit. 


And then Solo docked on Spirit’s port side. Fransisco is explaining how we work with the lines in the docks.



Exciting experience!


Some sit low, some sit high...



Now we are finally starting to enter the Panama Canal!


Once we entered the Canal we were thrown these brown lines so the line handlers on shore could grab our blue lines. Janne taking care of the stern’s line and Nilla of the bow’s line.


Guess the ship’s sizes differ a bit. The bigger ones are to be towed by several trains in the bow as well as the stern. We are towed by two men.


Entering the first lock the rest of the fleet filled up the lock after us before they close the doors behind us.



The Canal is composed of 3 parts
1. 3 locks to go upwards from the Caribbean Sea to the Gatun Lake
2. Motoring on the Gatun Lake
3. 3 locks to go downwards towards the Pacific

Our first 3 locks we are moving upwards starting by filling up the lock with water.


As the lock is filling up we work both from the bow (Nilla) and from the stern (Janne) to tighten the line. If we fail to tighten it, the “pack” will move around to much and risk hitting the wall.


We have now safely passed the first lock, the doors are opening ahead of us and we are entering the second lock


Nilla is getting the cowboy hit with the lines!


Louise’s turn to work with the bow line


And then Ellen.


By the time we moved on through the 3 locks it was night and we headed towards our buoy on Gatun Lake.

Sunrise on Gatun Lake with our ARC friends.


Separating from the night’s together-towing we left for motoring the Gatun Lake for 3 hours.


While entering the lake we zig zagged among the huge ships and tanks. We are ridiculously small...


Some company for breakfast!


Morning coffee like any other morning.

Through the lake we were heading 64 degrees, which is East-North East, towards the morning sun which was quite confusing as mentally we are heading towards the West but actually we go towards East!


While motoring on Gatun Lake we took this time to do some schooling. 

When we moved further on the lake we saw the lake changing colour to a quite unpleasant and non-inviting-to-swim colour.


We quickly got the answer. They were working on deepening the Canal to let deeper ships pass through.

Morning traffic


Happy sailor and our position on the lake.


Docking back onto Spirit’s starboard.


Entering the first of the rest of the descending locks towards the Pacific.


As we are now descending, the locks are to be emptied from the water. As we moved on we dropped more and more.

Working on the bow line and the lock’s first door opening towards the second lock.

Entering the second lock and being the first boat towards the doors we took a super quick ride to the top of Spirit’s mast (having electrical winshes!) to take pictures. This exercise is absolutely forbidden however our Advisor “did not see us”. So Louise got the chance to get up at the top of the mast and take pictures of the Canal’s both directions and our fleet.



At the Miraflores lock the Panama Canal had a webcam so we stood the whole family waving at Mormor, Morfar, Tata Mado and Tonton Freddy. 


Now heading for the Canal’s last lock.


On the other side ….


… the Pacific! With a welcome committee.


We did it!!! 


First sight of Panama City


Our Advisor Fransisco leaving us.


The first swim in the Pacific ;-)! The water on this side is a lot more cooolder… at least 5 degrees colder than the Caribbean Sea always being at 27-28 degrees.