Crossing Panama Canal and setting off to the Pacific, 8-14 March 2018

Manuel Ribeiro
Wed 14 Mar 2018 19:11

POS 08:37.5N 079:01.7W

The long awaited date finally arrived! ANIMA and ENIGMA were both ready to jump together from the Atlantic to the Pacific!


We had read a lot about what to do at each step of the canal crossing, but actually DOING IT is quite an experience! We left the marina mid afternoon and waited at the canal entrance. A “Canal Advisor” (much like a pilot, but not taking the helm) boarded our boat and we made our way to the first “lock”.


There are 3 locks on the atlantic side, which work much like an elevator, using water chambers to raise the boat some 25 meters to the level of Gatun Lake. On our way up (night time, but the canal is well lit, as it works 24x7), we tied to a tug boat on each lock, behind a large cargo ship, until we reached the lake and spent the night on a mooring, side by side with ENIGMA. We were the only 2 sailing boats scheduled to transit on this day. For this unusual moment we planned an unusual meal: codfish tong risotto… We had a blog entry dedicated to this meal during our atlantic crossing in ENIGMA, 7 years ago, as some of you may remember (the blog entries are still there, one with the recipe, in


The following morning, we woke up to the sound of monkeys in the nearby forest, a loud mixture of barking and roaring. We were soon boarded again by another “Advisor”, who showed us the way across Gatun Lake (20 miles) until we reached the 3 locks separating the lake down to the Pacific Ocean. The drop here is slightly higher, as there is a difference of a few meters in water level between the 2 oceans at these points (wind, currents, tide make this difference). Before entering this set of locks, we were tied to ENIGMA side by side and moved into the locks in a center position, with ropes to both sides of the canal walls to keep us steady. As the water drops by some 9 meters during 15 minutes in each lock, the ropes need to be adjusted permanently (this role is known as “line handling” and every boat must have 4 line handlers apart from the Captain).


As the last gate of the last lock opened, an immense new ocean opens up (with the associated emotion…) and another chapter of the journey begins!!


We passed under “Puente de las Americas” and took a mooring at Balboa Yacht Club, close to Panama CIty and convenient for refueling, visiting the city and shopping for our last major provisions, which should last for some 3-4 months, as the next large supermarket will be in Tahiti…


Panama City was built on this strategic location 500 years ago and served as a trans shipment point for gold and silver coming from Peru on its way to Spain. These riches were transported by land on mules to the East Coast, where it boarded again the spanish ships (and, occasionally, pirate ships if these were successful on their attacks). Over the centuries, pirates and competing countries attacked this trade and eventually destroyed the old Panama City, which ruins and museum provide for an interesting visit. Another visit not to miss is the Canal Museum, which describes in detail the railroad and the various attempts to dig the canal, which eventually opened just over 100 years ago. It operated under a long term lease and US management until end 1999 and is now 100% Panama. A new canal, next to the old one, opened a year ago and can handle larger vessels.


We left to Contadora Island (part of Las Perlas), a few hours sailing south of Panama. The last Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlevi,  took exile here in 1980, following the Iran revolution. At the anchorage, we met several friends which are on a similar journey to ours. ENIGMA (Australia), GLIDE (US), OUMA (New Zealand) and TiSento (Holland) joined us on board for a last dinner before we set sail to the Marquesas. Meeting and sharing experiences with such a varied group of people mark important moments on any large trip.


Today, 14th March, we are starting the longest passage of our circumnavigation and we should land in the Marquesas in about 4 weeks. ENIGMA and GLIDE left earlier today and we will no doubt stay in touch for some days.