Panama Canal – Part Two

Grace on the left of the raft

Make a mental note. It may only cost $0.25 cents for a bus journey in Panama City but don’t do it at going home time. A 20 minute ride home at 5.30pm turns into a crawling unpleasantness. So much so, that I’ve got the iPad out to fill the time and I’m starting tippy tappying Part Two of our Canal Transit.

So here we go….

Spencer slept in the cockpit and around 5am he dived down into the cabin as it had started to rain. Dave got up to close the hatches and my guess is everyone laid awake till it was time to get up around 6. The rain didn’t last long and soon the heat of the day started to build.

The pilot was due at 7am and Dave needed time for at least two cups of black coffee to be almost fully functioning and on the ball. Jorge arrived and hopped on around 7.15am, lines were dropped from the mooring buoy and we were off.

The first part of the day was motoring through the Gatun Lake. My main objective was to spot a crocodile. Melanie made a massive fruit salad and we settled down for chats, more tea and an easy start to the second day of transit with no immediate locks.

The lake is surrounded by rain forest. In fact the Smithsonian have a research centre just off the main channel. Container ships passed us at regular intervals till we reached a section called The Cut. Jorge advised us we needed to hang out on a mooring ball for around an hour as there is only space for one vessel at a time in this section.

Not content with manoeuvring Grace, looking after the crew and working with the pilot, Dave then disappeared down below to appear with plates of scrambled eggs and guacamole for everyone. We weren’t going to starve on this two day trip.

“There. By the two birds. Crocodile”. Bingo. Objective met. It was just hanging out. Partly beached. Partly in the water. The birds sat motionless in a teasing fashion, what looked like about a metre from the closed jaws. Perhaps not worth the effort of a little snap. That was me happy.

Then it was back to the serious business of descending the final three locks and exiting into the Pacific. Once again the plan was to nest the catamaran and two monohull together to make a raft. Thankfully Mrs Splosh wasn’t anywhere to be seen on the back of the catamaran.

This time, the raft was a much tighter unit. That was helpful. We needed to get into the lock and moored up before our ship arrived. Going up the locks, the big ship goes in first. Going down, the ship goes in second.

On day one, the wind had been on Grace’s side. It was tres important we got our lines on quick and tight before the wind could potentially push the whole raft across the lock towards the far lock wall. Today, the wind was on the side of the other yacht so they would have this responsibility. We were the more vulnerable boat.

As with day one, it was a learning experience. It wasn’t totally seamless but neither was it catastrophic. The wind did catch the raft and the even with engine running on the catamaran, we were blown at an angle towards the wall.

Spencer had tied a fender to the bowsprit in anticipation of perhaps needing one and I hurriedly got Melanie to take our line. A few quick paces and I was on the bow sprit with my roving fender and was able to squeeze it between the stainless steel guard rails and the jagged concrete wall. We ended up with a PCK, a Panama Canal Kiss on the very end of the wooden bowsprit. A small 3” burr etched on the wood but thankfully nothing was bent, no lights were broken proving a little foresight is a cost saving endeavour. There was little to do but react. A guy on the catamaran quietly said to me “well done”. I appreciated that.

That was the first of the three locks. After that it was straightforward. The last lock on the Miraflores side has a live webcam and several friends and family saw us pretty much perfectly execute the final lock. It was a bit of a shock to look up and see a whole gallery of people at the visitor’s centre stood watching. Not a time to stuff up!

And that was it, the final lock gates opened and we shot out into the Pacific. The fresh water in the lock travels quickly across the heavier lower salty sea water coming in meaning a fast exit.

We motored a couple of miles under the Bridge of the Americas and down to the anchorage at La Playita. The anchor wouldn’t set immediately and the windlass tripped but it didn’t matter. We were safely through.




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