A grand day out!

Sun 16 Mar 2003 05:57
The alarm went at 03:15, some 3 hours after we finally got to sleep, and our grand day out began with a much needed cuppa. The previous four days had been spent in Colon, Panama, securing the right to transit the famous canal and now our turn had come.
By 04:00 we had the anchor up and motored to the yacht club to pick up our two professional and two volunteer line handlers. All we needed now was a transit adviser (pilot) who was reported to be coming at 04:30.
When the aptly named Marine finally arrived at 05:45 we headed for the massive triple Gatun lock to be raised over 80 feet above sea level and cross the isthmus of Panama.
The day went with out a hitch and apart from being very tired, Avalon and her crew were moored in the Pacific ocean with a cold beer by 16:00. (4pm)
The pictures will hopefully give a much better impression of what a Panama Canal transit is like.(From a 30ft sailboat)
The Topaz Rey, a car carrier that we followed into the Gatun locks at dawn. Our line handling was easy as we were tied to a 47ft French yacht who were then tied to a canal tug who stayed firmly attached to the wall,as the water rose, with its powered winches.
Marine, our adviser, was extremely competent and laid back which meant that when the inevitable ships wake hit us all on board Avalon were 'cool.'
The canal looks and operates much the same as it did 90 years ago when the locks first opened.
Ships are held, pulled and stopped by the 'mules,' which are electric trains with two cable winches coming out the side. Normally four on each side of the ship control its position in the lock under the guidance of the pilot on the bridge.
"Easy, easy" was Marines favourite order, even though he had a football game to get to.
Eric the line handler has been going through the canal for 18 years(1000 times)
A Panamax ship fits in the lock with 50ft fore and aft and less than 2ft either side!!!
George and Natalie and their crew made for an easy day as we stayed tied to them in the locks as we moved from chamber to chamber with our tug boat. Our little 'nest' of boats then had the use of two engines to manoeuvre along side the tug.
Leslie and Brett (Aussie backpackers) made up half of our line handlers. They were in Panama staying on Brett's brothers boat. (From Melbourne!)
After a successful transit were said goodbye to Marine, Eric and Hose as our second down lock ship the Star Evanger steams off into the Pacific.