Febuary 24, 2014-Panama Canal Trial Run
Colon: the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. Boats here are going through the canal to the Pacific; half a dozen today and more arriving each a day to get into the queue. Most will head out into the Pacific Ocean to the Galapagos Islands and then across Australia. But first they need to get through the canal and for that they need crew to handle the lines in the locks. Line handlers. I was asked if I would go with Derek and Ann Marie on Sand Groper, a 46' catamaran.
OK, why not? Judy is in Florida; I am alone on the boat here in Colon. I could use the experience. We won't be taking Wings across the Pacific Ocean again but we will go through the canal before heading to Mexico. Besides, they will feed us. I agree.
I join Sand Groper and in the evening we set out for the Gatun Locks. It's interesting and exciting. Maybe a little challenging for Derek, our skipper; it's windy and the quarters are tight as a huge container ship glides by at close quarters to go in ahead of us. Along with two other yachts, to whom we raft tightly just outside, we enter the first locks. They are chambers of concrete with iron gates at both ends, long but not particularly wide. I am, however, impressed about how high the sides are. The locks must lift us 85 feet to the level of Gatun Lake before we can motor across the Continental Divide to the Pacific side of Panama and then be lowered again to sea level and the walls tower over us. The lock tenders high at the top of the walls throw monkey fists down then take our lines up to the bollards. They are silent, watching impassively as the lock floods with swirling water and we float higher. We are tossed around. The Panamanian advisor from the Canal Authority on our yacht reminds me to take in the slack on my line then secure it tightly as a swirl of water tries to throw us against the wall. I pull on the line then tie it off. I know my back will be sore after this night. I sit down on deck to be able to reach the cleat without bending over. I change the way I am tying it off the line so there is less chance of a jam. I am learning from this trip.
I am also thinking about how we will sleep six people on Wings when we come through, and what we will cook them; good meals are expected.
Then the gates open and we move into the next lock. There are six in total.
Twenty-two hours later, after a night anchored on Gatun Lake, we cleared the last lock gate and passed into the Pacific. Quite an experience.
Click here for some photos.
Fred, aboard Sand Groper, Panama Canal