Hey gang – as it turns out I won’t have a bunch of time to be writing at length about the transit just yet, but thought I’d share a few photos. I think Fabio will be happy, as he’s one that suggested my posts are too long and wordy sometimes. He’s probably right. In this modern age, we want media, photos, video – stuff we can see, consume & digest rapidly. Ok. Here’s some pics, part 1. 🙂
This batch are from Michael and Sharon Graf, two of our linehandlers. Michael and Sharon are also headed through the ditch next week, aboard their Bavaria 41 (I think) called “Larabeck”. Sharon is from Laramie, Wyoming and Michael is from Lubeck, Germany. Laramie + Lubeck = “Larabeck”. Cool! They were great crew and aside from providing so much help, they also provided these great pictures. Thanks guys! We’ll be looking forward to meeting up again in the Pacific!
Michael took this shot just before we cast off from Shelter Bay. L to R that’s Sharon, me, Larissa and Valerie Wagoner, our fourth line handler. Val is originally from Lille, France, but adopted Seattle and the US before leaving the states with husband Eric on “Pacific Mystic”.
the intrepid crew, ready to transit! time to cast off!
As you leave the sweltering confines of the Shelter Bay Marina, you head out into the Bahai de Limon, the large bay at the north end of the Canal. This area is behind the breakwaters that separate it from the open Caribbean/Atlantic. Many ships anchor in this area while waiting to transit the Canal towards teh Pacific. Our task was to motor over to a specific demarcated area called “The Flats”, where we contact the Cristobal Signal Station. You advise them of your arrival and that you’re standing by to receive your Advisor. The Advisor is mandatory for the crossing and his job is to orient the Skipper and linehandlers in all practical aspects of the transit – when to go into the lock, how to tie up and where, etc.
Once in the Flats, you discover if there are any other “small” boats that will be transiting with you. Usually, there is one large ship in the lock and then the pleasure boats and smaller yachts, if there’s space. In our case, there were two. The first was this one. This is a large charter Cat called “Discovery” – something like 150 or 200 feet.. She’s a Panamanian boat that does Luxury ‘mini-cruise’ ship vacations in the area. All the comforts of home. We would tie up with here the next day, on the way down into the Pacific. The second boat, which you’ll see in a minute, was a 55ft fishing boat on a delivery from Florida to Newport Beach, California.
This is the Cristobal port, near the Flats and next to the city of Colon. This Cosco ship probably takes up the whole lock by herself. Either that, or she doesn’t fit at all and has arrived from points north. In this case, they have to unload all the containers – several thousand of them – and transfer them to the Pacific side by train. It can take up to a week to get it all done, with the trains running 24/7!
We sat out on the Flats, motoring around in circles (called “making doughnuts”) for about an hour. We were 30 minutes early for our 17.00 rendezvous and the Advisor, Omar (in the white hat with duffle in hand) was about 30 minutes late. But there’s nothing you can do about it. They run the show and even if you did pay more than a thousand bucks to go through, you’re quite simply on THEIR schedule. The Pilot boat came alongside and dropped Omar off on Walk On. This guy was pretty cool in the end, and had a striking resemblance to an ex-TIM colleage from Rome named Fiore (Fioravante). Viva Napoli! Omar however is from Colon.
Just about the time Omar was being dropped off, we had a dinghy-visit and farewell from Mike Rosner on “Panda”. Mike & Edie had left Shelter Bay the same day, with Westie “Bella” of course, but they were over in the Flats visiting some other friends on another boat. Mike is so cool that he actually hopped in his dinghy, flew over, and wished us a safe and expedient Canal transit. That’s very cool. We’ll miss seeing them, but look forward to the next meeting.
Lara taking some video as we get settled in and head towards the first UP lock at Gatun.
View from the bow heading into the locks. The big ship in the middle went in first, followed by Discovery (on the right).
The whole time we were approaching, the Advisors from the three boats (us, Discovery and the fishing boat) had a lengthy and not so organized radio conference about how we’d actually tie up, where, to whom and how, once we were in the locks. The lack of disorganization frustrated me, and the crew, as we had to make changes in our line configuration (bow, stern, spring, long, short, etc) about three times while these guys discussed how it was all going to happen.
Michael was my main man on the bow lines and even though we changed setups several times, he took it all in stride and was a tremendous help all the way. Their extensive experience locking through many canals in the US was boon for us (Larabeck left St. Louis, MO, and did more than 1,000 miles on inland waterways and rivers, such as the Mississippi and Ohio – that with the mast down and locking something like 16 times before they hit the Gulf of Mexico in Mobile, Alabama).
The ship is in, Discovery is on the way in, and we’re about the leave the ‘little pond’ of the Atlantic/Caribbean behind!
The photo is a bit dark, but perhaps you can still pick up on a bit of anxiety on my face… why can’t these Advisors get organized!?!?!?!?
Michael and Val work out fender placement on the starboard side. At this point, we knew at least that we’d be tied up to (rafted, or ‘nested’ as they prefer here) to another boat, our starboard to their port side.
We were last to head into the first lock up. Discovery was tied to the side wall, behind the ship. To fit in, the smaller fishing boat would also tie up, directly astern of them, and then we’d tie up to the port side of the fishing boat.
Coming into the lock to tie up to the fishing boat.
The tie-up was a bit of a ‘clusterf—‘. The guys on the fishing boat had only 1 tire fender and two small boat fenders. This is completely inadequate to transit the canal, much less tie up to another boat. Luckily, we have an abundance of fenders (10 in all) and so were able to protect ourselves in a way. These guys even had the gaul to ask if they could borrow some of ours. That’s because on the wall side, they were totally unpreprared to fend themselves of the wall. I told them where to stick it as every skipper has to be fully responsible for his own vessel. Then they didn’t have the agreed lines ready to throw back to us. Again we had to give them more of our lines to tie up. I felt really bad for the owner of this boat, who was not present, as his pretty fishing boat was being poorly handled in a potentially dangerous situation. In fact, before it was over, they scraped the wall on the other side three times, doing some nasty and unsighly damage to the polished finish of the boat.
Before the locks close behind you and the waters start their magic and turbulent rise, you have to have the long lines tied off to the giant chocks up on top of the lock walls. These hold you ‘safely’ in place as the locks either fill or empty.
Doing more than their fair share between the two boat, Michael, Val, Lara and Sharon were constantly doing that little extra to make sure Walk On was secure and wouldn’t be making contact with the fishing boat. The fishing boat guys were pretty aloof. “Dolt” is probably the word my friend Tony would have used.
Then the waters start to rise. Sharon’s pic did a good job of recording a bit of the turbulence.
Now 25 feet above sea level, we move forward into the next lock. In all, there are three up, and three down – with a total of around 75 feet vertical.
During this 90 minutes that it takes to go up and through the tree locks, we called our folks to check the webcam and got some calls from Michael Nelson letting us know he could see us, even though it was getting dark. That was really neat.
After you clear the third lock up, you’re in Gatun Lake – a large freshwater lake. You head over to two gigantic mooring buoys, tie up, unload the advisor back onto a pilot boat, and then spend the night. We had a late happy hour and then a killer pasta by Larissa. Close to 23.00 or midnight, we all jumped in the lake for a wonderful freshwater bath – soaping and shampooing and jumping back in! It felt sooooo good. I believe there are some good pics of that, which I’ll post in Part 2. 🙂
This is Michael on the mooring buoy the next morning – just about 06.30. The second advisor, Jose, is on the way and we’re ready to cast off and motor down the lake – something like 30 nautical miles. Big buoy, isn’t it?
As you motor 4 and 1/2 hours down through the lake, you stick very close to one side of the channel or the other. Clearly, that’s to stay out of the way of the frequent ship traffic – and these monsters roar through the lake going north or south at 12-15 knots.
Here we’re being passed by another behemoth – a car carrier.
MJM and Michael discussing South Pacific tactics – since we’re both headed the same way, we’re keen to trade ideas.
On the way down, our tie-ups to Discovery were much easier and went pretty smoothly.
Sharon got a pic of Baby Cakes and me, as the ship that will share our locks pulls in behind us.
Here she comes….
This was just about the time when folks started to let us know they could see us clearly on the webcam at Miraflores locks. We got a shower of messages on the sat phone and that was really cool! Fabio & Debby, Bruno Taveira, Edu & Adriana… text from Switzerland, Brazil, Cartagena… wow. Thanks to all who wrote and called, and sent screen shots!
The electric trains, called ‘mules’ help the ships both manuever, and stay in the middle of the lock. Normally they’re so wide they barely fit, with only a few feet to spare on either side. The whole operation is pretty amazing.
Sharon: “Wow, that’s a pretty good size ship, isn’t it? And she’s coming closer!” 🙂
Then the water goes down (notice how high the walls are), and I scoot outta there before the big ship gets going. A sight you NEVER want to see on the high seas… as she’d be doing 15-20 knots and we’d be TOAST!
This is Michael on the bow just as we’ve cleared the third and final lock. 75 feet down, doors open, PACIFIC dead ahead! I think we sped out at something close to seven knots. It wasn’t just the Yanmar, I think Walk On was surging forward on her own – pure excitement!
Lara gets her first feel of the Pacific from behind the wheel. 🙂
Discussing the busy traffic scheme headed out in the channel. Val contemplates.
Advisor Jose disembarks. He was a nice guy, and we talked a lot about his large family and three gorgeous kids.
Baby Cakes and the gateway to the big pond, the Bridge of the Americas.
Michael and Sharon with the Bridge. Thanks again to them not only for the help and company, but also for so many great photos! See you in the pond guys!
As for me, I’ve got some more photos and a bit of video that I’ll get posted when I can. Right now it’s time for me and Lara to knock some items off the to-do-before-Galapagos list!