Monthly Archives: May 2010

Panama Canal Transit Pics, Part 2

Ok, just a few more photos today, again from the transit.

The crew starts to take the midnight plunge into Gatun Lake – Michael Graf leads the way!

Then Sharon and Val get into to it too!

I climbed up on the outside of the radar arch (targa) to get a decent photo of everyone in the water… the autofocus hit the dinghy lift lines instead, oh well.

Soap & Shampoo!  A classy cruiser bath in freshwater Gatun Lake!  You don’t do that everyday on a cruising boat.  The freshwater lake part I mean, not the bath.  he he he 🙂

Lara and Val – slick & soapy!

Passing the Miraflores Lock building – a cool sight, and an historic site!

One ship behind (coincidentally called the “Charles Martin”) and one next door in the eastern lock.  Ships everywhere!!!

25 feet straight down and through those enormous gates lies the ‘big pond’ of the Pacific.

Walk On seen from the top deck of the Discovery, the boat we were nested to on the way down.

She actually starts to look a bit small from here, doesn’t she?

– – – –

Yesterday Lara and I invested in Navigation for the Pacific:

– the Navionics Electronic charts for the Pacific (includes all the islands we want to visit, plus Hawaii and Japan – this chart should last us for some time now)

– two large scale South Pacific paper charts.   We plan to plot our 24 hour positions on the long passages and some day I’ll hang this on the wall in a room somewhere – probably in an office.  Good conversation piece.

– one comprehensive crusing guide called “Landfalls of Paradise”.  I think the name is pretty apt.  And the book is so much more info than we had before.

– – –

Today we’ll work on Yanmar maintenance: change oil & filter, two fuel filters (Racor and main), and – yes, finally – fight to get the impeller out.  Also we’ll likely meet up with Juliana, a friend from Rio currently living nearby in the city!  She’s offered to help us with major shopping trips with her car (even though she’s 6 months pregnant! way to go Ju!), and tonight we may even catch the Suns-Lakers game (DO OR DIE TIME BOYS!) from a regular house on a regular TV – not such a regular occurrence for us!

Tomorrow more work and prepping for Monday…. did I mention we’ll have a third on the way to the Galapagos?  More on Alex’s arrival and trip with us tomorrow.

ciao gang!


Panama Canal Transit Pics – Part 1

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!

A presto!


Guys, we made it!

We had a very successful transit, and I’ve got lots of pictures and some video, quite a few people to thank, and a few things to tell… but the cool thing is that we’re here – at the Balboa Yacht Club on the Pacific side of the Canal.  WOW.  Lara is super excited (EMPOLGADA) for the upcoming trip to the Galapagos and we even have Crew news. . . so, in fact, I need to sit down and write a bit, organize the media stuff, and share.  But for the moment, I’m having a cold draft with my Baby Cakes, breathing a new air, a new breeze… Pacific Wind!  Thanks to friends and family for the phone calls, text messages on the sat phone, and even screen shots from the Canal Webcams – you guys were all great, and we felt even better you were sharing this special moment with us.  More soon gang, more soon.

This is us (can you see Walk On in the picture?), in the Miraflores Locks… on the way down and moments before entering the Pacific.

Thanks to Bruno for sending the pic (and posting on FB!)!!!!


The first of many, of course, perhaps not the best we’ll see, but it’s the first, and we’ll remember it, forever.

Wow, a high like I’ve not experienced in some time….. I’m not sure what else I might have done today that might have brought more joy, a greater sense of satisfaction, realization…..

ciao gang!


SMS from

galera, estamos passando na eclusa miraflores em 10 min, nos procurem. bj Lara

SMS from

We should transit the Miraflores locks at about 12.00 or12.30. It should be easier to see us today, as it’s daytime! Hopefully someone can get a screenshot and send it by email. We had a great time on the lake last night, super pasta by Lara, good wine, then everyone did a full moon lake dive and cruiser shower on the stern swim platform. That felt very good! Arriving in the pacific today will feel even better. 😉 ciao!

revised canal transit time!

ok gang – we’re meeting the Advisor at 17.00 (LOCAL TIME, PANAMA), so I don’t expect we’ll be in the Gatun locks until about 18.00 local time.  keep your eyes peeled!  we’re stoked.  Lara’s ready, Walk On is ready, I’m ready.  VIA!

galera, vamos encontrar o nosso advisor (que nos acompanhe no canal) as 17.00 (hora do PANAMA, 2 horas atras do Brasil), e entao acho que vamos passar as primeiras eclusas (Gatun Locks), for volta de 18.00.  tamu bastante empolgados!  a Lara ta prontissima, e o bicho Walk On tambem.  eu to pronto faz tempo, e entao, VIA!


Se ligam na webcam! O Walk On vai pro grande Pacifico!!!!

Se ligam na webcam! O Walk On vai pro grande Pacifico!!!!


– 4a (amanha) Gatun Locks: mais ou menos entre 17.00 (5PM) and 19.00 (7PM) PANAMA TIME.

– 5a, Miraflores Locks, mais ou menos 12.00 (noon) or 13.00 (1PM) PANAMA TIME.

Brasil ta 2 horas na frente do Panama… ta ligado?

the eve of an historic passage

No, we’re not raising sail tomorrow for a distant anchorage and we don’t exactly have a long passage ahead of us….

What we do have, simply, is the passage from the Great Atlantic to the Mighty Pacific… without rounding Cape Horn.  Yup, thanks the marvel that is the Panama Canal, we’ll be in the Pacific Ocean on Thursday.  I saw WE because though Larissa and I just did the transit on another boat, Walk On had to stay on her mooring lines, here on the Atlantic side, and wait for us.  She missed us I know and also know she’s bucking and ready for a new ocean.  Hard to believe all this really.

Today was quite busy – up early to catch the bus to town for shopping, and then most of the rest of the day putting all that away (stowing, as it were).  Got the dinghy settled in it’s spot in the stern, stowed the outboard, got out the fenders (first time we’ll have used all 10 of them!), cleaned this and organized that, filled the auxiliary water tanks – and found our complete crew!

Going through, each boat is required to have “1+4”, the one being the skipper and the four being linehandlers – one for each line to secure the four ‘corners’ of the boat when it’s in the locks.  So we’ve got full crew and the three additional people to Lara and myself are also cruisers!  Valerie is French, from S/Y “Pacific Mystic” and Michael and Sharon will also being joining us.  Michael is orginally from Germany and Sharon from Wyoming – but they also are South Pacific bound on a young cruise that started on their lovely Bavaria yacht… in St. Louis!  I’ll get to know them better on our transit and will write more about them as well – but we feel lucky to have the full complement of crew.  If you don’t, you have to pay US$ 130 each for linehandlers.  Lucky us!  And they get the experience out of it for their own crossing – just as we did on Sunday and Monday…

Anyway, we’re done working for the day.  Lara will go back to town in the morning for a few things and I’ll prepare all the remaining items on the boat.  We should be leaving the marina at about 14.30.  Now that we know (more or less) we can give you a better idea as to when you might see us going through the locks.

From the Antlantic to the Pacific, the order is:

Wednesday Afernoon:

1. Gatun Locks.  These are three locks that we’ll go through, going UP about 85 feet above sea level in all, before spending the night on a mooring in Gatun Lake.

Thursday Morning:

2. We’ll go through Pedro Miguel lock, and shortly therafter, the two Miraflores Locks.  Then, quite simply, we’ll be in the Pacific.  🙂

So, chances to see us on the webcams will be:

1. Wednesday afternoon (tomorrow) Gatun Locks: somewhere between 17.00 (5PM) and 19.00 (7PM) PANAMA TIME.

There is also a high resolution camera that you can try, just look for the tab on the top right of the camera image called “Gatun – High Resolution”

2. Thursday morning (day after tomorrow), Miraflores Locks, somewhere around 12.00 (noon) or 13.00 (1PM) PANAMA TIME.
– – – –

The address for the cameras is:

Click on the tab to see which lock you want, Gatun Locks or Miraflores Locks.  Easy as that.  Hope you see us and I hope that someone is quick enough to do a screen shot and send us a photo! We plan to take plenty, and plenty of video, but a screen shot from the webcams would be VERY Cool!

– – – –

Speaking of pictures, here are a few from our Sunday/Monday transit, to give you and idea what it looks like!


This is looking aft, or north, towards the Caribbean/Atlantic.  This is after we’ve already locked “up”once.  Two more locks up and we’re in Gatun Lake.

The buildings besides the locks, dating to 1913.

First day, Sunday:  This is what it looks like when the lock doors close behind you… just before the water starts to rise.

This is Lara, with Caio, on the bow.  Caio is from Brazil too and crewing on the boat, which is headed to Australia on a delivery.  They were handling the bow lines.  In front of us, in the same lock, is a ship called the Seattle Reefer.  As ships go, she wasn’t all that big really, so there was plenty of room in the lock between us.  It’s not always so spacious… when you go through with a really BIG one, it can be a tight fit.  But it all works like clockwork, literally.

The doors, closing behind us…

Another view, as they close together.  We went through rafted (tied up next to) another boat – a Moody called Kittiwake, from the UK.

Bow Candy!!! (pretty girl on the bow of a boat)

As boats go through the locks, there is an official on board – and Advisor – that works for the ACP (Panama Canal Authority).  He makes sure the skipper and crew handle the boat correctly and follow directions.  This guy was really nice – Franklin.  He liked this picture, with the Panama Flag above him and the Gatun Locks building behind.  They all work with a great deal of pride on the Canal – as they should!

As the ship ahead of us moves out of the full lock into the next lock, they engage their engines briefly to get the ship moving forward slowly.  Electric trains, called mules, are attached to the ship on either side, both bow and stern, and use tensioned steel cables to keep the ship aligned in the lock.  This is what a bit of the turbulence looks like in the water.  In our case, it was no biggie, because it was a small ship.  Sometimes it can be violent.

In the downtime the crew gets to know each other… Caio showing Lara a bunch of pictures on his camera.  Cool dude this guy – we liked him alot.

DAY 2: Monday

After spending the night in the lake, the next advisor comes on board at 0600.  Then you motor for about 4 hours, across Gatun Lake and then down rivers and channels to the next lock.  All this time you’re something like 85 feet above sea level, in the middle of the jungle, in a gorgeous lake filled with Crocs! 🙂

Inside the next locks and starting on the way DOWN to the Pacific.  The water will start to fall soon….

The water has started to fall, and Lara and Caio handle the lines on the bow.

The water in the lock is nearly to the bottom.  This is the side wall.  The numbers mark the distance from the front and rear of the lock, as well as the number of feet above sea level (see the 76, 75 74… ).

When necessary, big powerful tugboats help the ships maneuver going into and getting out of the locks.

This is Hugh, the skipper of our boat, on the bow at the front end of the Miraflores Locks.

Miraflores lock building, dated also to 1913.

Miraflores also has a visitors centor, where people can come, have lunch, and watch ships transit the Canal.  We felt like celebrities! ha ha ha

On the way down to the Pacific side, we had a ship inside the lock, but this time behind us.  This was a monster from a company called Dockwise.  They load this ship up with other boats (megayachts, sailboats, whatever) and deliver them to distant ports around the world.

Once out of the last lock, and into the Pacific, the large ship overtakes us easily.  We saw megayachts with helis on top, sailing yachts, and fishing boats aboard.

Bye bye dockwise

The Bridge of the Americas on the horizon… hello Pacific!!!!

That’s it for now gang.  More tomorrow before we leave the Carib and Atlantic behind… if there’s time!  If not, more from the Pacific on Thursday or Friday.

Keep your eyes on SPOT!  🙂

Lara, MJ, and Walk On are Pacific Bound!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

one down, one more to go!

guys, we had a great trip. it was actually fun, and a lot less difficult that we’d imagined. the canal is a modern wonder, without doubt, and hugh, caio and paolo were very cool. we swam in the lake, saw loads of cool jungle and then saw the pacific!!! i’ll write about it when i can. we’ve got a bunch of video and photos to organize and post – but we’ve also got (quite) a few things to do before our own transit on Walk On, wednesday…. can’t wait!

Locking DOWN at Miraflores – the last gates to the Pacific just ahead.

Lara Celebrating our first view of the Pacific.  Not on our boat, but that will happen soon enough. 🙂

webcam update

we ought to be clearing the first locks, Gatun, some time around 17.00 or 18.00 local time.  that’s just a guess. we meet the advisor at 16.00 on the flats, just before going in, so I’m guessing here…  anyway, the link to that camera is: