Friday, June 26, 2015

Our Transit of the Panama Canal

On Wednesday, June 24th, the day of our transit, we were awake and ready by 6:00am. We called "Flamenco Signal Station" and were told that our canal advisor should arrive around 7:00am. About 7:20 Guillermo arrived and hopped aboard. The advisor is in constant contact with the canal authorities, adjusting your speed, telling you exactly where to be, and how you will be handled in the locks. As we slowly motored up the channel, past the Balboa Yacht Club, and under the Bridge of the Americas, he told us we would be behind the Baltic Breeze, and have a starboard tie to a tug. A side tie to a tug is the easiest way to transit because you don't have to handle the long lines. You just raft up to the tug and the tug's crew does all the work.
After we got rafted up to the tug the bells clanged and the giant lock doors closed and the water started boiling up around us. Since we didn't have to handle any lines, we were free to take photos, look around, and marvel at this hundred year old feat of engineering.
Here is the lock wall at the beginning of the fill.
Here is the lock wall at the end of the fill.
After each lock filled we quickly untied our lines, motored away from the tugs and allowed them to move ahead first. Then they would tie to the wall and we would tie to them again.
The first set of lock is called Miraflores and there are two lock there. After we exited the second Miraflores lock we motored about 2 miles to the last Pacific lock; Pedro Miguel. Then we cranked up the engine to 2950 rpms and tried to make it to the Atlantic locks in time, but since we had gotten into the first lock at 10:45, our chances didn't look good. At about 5:00pm our advisor told us we would have to spend the night on a mooring buoy and finish our transit the next day. He guided us to the spot (see large black dot on map below)....

and told us how to tie up to the buoy. We put bumpers out and snugged up a bow line and a stern line, effectively rafting up to the buoy. The thing was huge and we all laughed at this new way of mooring to a buoy. Then Guillermo hopped onto the buoy and the pilot boat whisked him away. The next morning while waiting for the new advisor, we hopped onto the buoy for some photos too.

At 9:30 our new advisor, Hector, arrived and we motored towards the three Gatun locks. He told us we would go in front of Gannet Bulker and do a port side tie to a barge. With our experience from the day before we quickly accomplished that and then waited for the electric mules to slowly bring the ship up behind us. The draining of the locks is less turbulent than the filling and it only takes about 10 minutes per lock.
After the first lock, the barge captain asked us to let go and stand by while he got underway first. He quickly moved to the starboard side of the next lock and unloaded a small crane, then was back to the port side by the time we arrived to tie up again. Those guys were so efficient and friendly.
Here is our raft up with the Gannet Bulker behind us.
In the final lock we could see the Caribbean Sea (well, the approach to it anyway).

After the last lock we said Adios to Grulla and left the lock first. We motored over to the "flats" where Hector was picked off our boat by the pilot boat and we were free to at last enter the Caribbean Sea.

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