Blog Post 20 by Jon Sanders: Navigating The Panama Canal
As you are probably aware, I was due to depart, on Perie Banou 2, Shelter Bay Marina, Colon – Atlantic end of the canal – Monday 22nd May 2017. Well, I didn’t, I went Tuesday.
Why? I don’t know. You get that. It was the same with two other yachts. All three yachts did the transit Tuesday.
The other yachts were a French-owned Lagoon 50 (ft) catamaran and a New Zealand owned Royal New Zealand Yacht Club 44.5 Beneteau. RNZYC is on North Island.
Paul Stratfold and his partner of eight years, Shiralee Fitzgerald, flew in from St Maarten Caribbean to manage and do the transit with me.
In Paul’s baggage were two oil filters and two fuel filters for Perie Banou’s 50hp Yanmar engine.
Paul did not declare them. Bad boy. (He is a good bloke – but then again I ain’t a Panamanian)
He got arrested! True…
So a Panama lady customs officer ends up being in the car driven by driver Ricky organised by our transit agent Tina McBride.
Lady Customs Officer needed to travel in the car with Paul and Shiralee and the two precious, now expensive, oil and fuel filters, from Panama City (Pacific) to Colon (Atlantic) – the other side of Panama.
Thus to ensure the oil and fuel filters were safely put on Perie Banou, just like where Paul reckoned they were going.
Paul paid the cost of the official’s movements and the return by taxi. Cash of course.
During the next several days Paul would get the odd iPhone call from the lady. Despite Shiralee, she seemed to have the hots for Paul.
He wanted the calls like a hole in the head.
Come Tuesday, with Paul in charge, Shiralee, and the two line handlers Ricky and Eric we departed at 4.15 am the dock Shelter Bay Marina.
In the darkness, we motored across the estuary to the Flats. The other two yachts also arrived.
At 5 am the Advisor (pilot) arrived by Launch.
In convoy with the other two yachts, with their advisors and line handlers, we began the transit. Towards the first three locks. The Gatun Locks. The up locks. (The Locks are a lock system that lifts a ship up 90 feet to the main elevation of the Panama Canal and down again. The original canal had a total of six steps for a ship’s passage)
One mile from the locks, under the advice of the advisor, the linesmen tied the three yachts together, as one. The Lagoon, being the bigger vessel, in the middle. She was to be the powerhouse. The two smaller yachts on either side.
All yachts are surrounded by their fenders, tied to the rails. Ricky had made up eight additional fenders for Perie Banou out of tyres, with plastic bags taped around them.
Just as well. A large tug passed close. Full bore. Big wash.
Thus all tied together we entered the first of the three locks. We were in the centre chamber, that is all three tied together in the middle of the lock.
And the big ship in front.
The water that floods the locks raises the vessels. It is fed by man-made Gatun Lake.
The three locks join each other. One, then next, then next. Altogether it raised us 90 ft.
Gatun Lake, built to feed the locks and provides much of the transit route to the Pacific end of the canal. It feeds the Gaillard Cut, thru the mountain ridge, a continuation of the Andes Mountains.
The lake is beautiful. Fabulous. Ringed by jungle and jungle clad islands.
We get to see all sorts of nearby ships under way. They steam thru Gatun Lake. Wonderful.
At the other Panama, the city end of the canal, are the last three of the six locks. These three lower the ships to the Pacific.
The procedure for the final three locks was different. The Lagoon split from ourselves and went alone into a parallel set of locks.
A canal ferry went into our lock, followed by Rumpus (the Beneteau) that tied alongside the ferry, then us, being the smaller yacht, tied to Rumpus.
On the way up we followed the ship – first in. The reverse happens on the way down.
The ship, massive, comes in behind – close behind.
Both sides of the ship are so close to the walls of the lock, it is difficult to see the gap either side. These huge ships are built to just fit the canal.
The very last of these locks, oops we tied to Rumpus facing the other way – from where we came. That would be us. Why not!?
As we drew alongside the Beneteau our bow linesman threw the line. It landed on Rumpus, as always. Quickly tied.
The stern linesman was severely hampered by our shade cloth (made by David Dicks himself, out of one of my used mainsails).
Just a bit of rope arrived on Rumpus. Their linesman missed it, and the current in the lock caught it. We ended up tying the other way around.
Kristin, the partner of Rupert Wilson (the owners of Rumpus), said to me, “I thought you were doing a circumnavigation. Why are you going the other way?”
“Because I am backward” (Should that be ‘s?).
Anyway, Paul used the current and spun the yacht quickly on our way out.
It was a beautiful transit across Panama. My 7th. I will never get tired of doing it.
Paul and Shiralee managed all and everything. Organised all and paid for it. The agent, the linesmen, the transit, Flamenco Marina, Balboa – Panama City. The hotel, reprovisioning, refuelling including additional jerry cans (Americans call jugs) plus more.
They flew out of Panama 7 am Saturday, 26 May. Perie Banou departed three hours later for French Polynesia.
The most uncomfortable thing has been the climate. It is the non-tourist season in Panama. Like Darwin, the northern Australian city, in summer – the wet season. Hot. Awful humid.
It is the Wet now in Panama. Very hot and very humid.
My hotel was bliss!
When I departed Balboa three days back, it was calm, calmer than calm. All that day, all that night and most of the next day. Then I fetched a light head wind. All overcast. Thunder and lightning.
Fill you in next week.
Regards to all.