Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Panama Canal night Transit

Just relating the story of our transit………………..on an “as I remember it basis”……………..our agent had asked that we be waiting off channel buoy 6 at 1500 but Flamenco Signal re-confirmed that it would be 1615. Oh well, that was just a bit more hanging around. We had spent the morning tying our salubrious plastic-covered tyres around the boat so that we would be able to fend off anything that might threaten the paintwork. And we also practiced catching and tying monkey-fisted lines and flaked our long canal lines so that we could hold center chamber. We headed out to the channel area, noting that the number of AIS targets around us was over 250. Around 1630 the pilot launch appeared and came alongside. Hand line transits Speculator, Magna Carta and ourselves soon had transit advisor/pilots aboard – our was a very pleasant young man, Amado. He completes one transit a day on his work days. We then ran up the channel towards the Miraflores Locks arriving at 1750; we slowed down to let a freighter – the 500 ft Crown Garnet - pass and go into the West lock in front of us. For the transit we lost our identity and we three motor yachts became 25 Charlie, 25 Daniel and 25 Echo. North bounds are odd numbers and South bounds even. 25D was being rather difficult at every stage – rather like a horse refusing to go into the gate – and insisted that she go center chamber on her own, rather than being the center nest to 25 Charlie and 25 Echo. Crown Garnet went in first, then 25 Charlie caught the hand lines and tied to the port wall, then we came alongside and rafted up – so we had our own personal 80’ fender between us and the wall, how useful! 25 Daniel came in behind us.  Gates closed and the chamber was filling, some extreme turbulence and 25 Charlie was using motor and thruster to try to get away from the wall, or at least to minimize the crush on his port fenders. While all this was happening we were emailing with my sister in Australia who was monitoring Last Mango on the live webcam – particularly since we have on board my Dad and brother Chris as crew on this trip. After we had been lifted, the doors opened; we untied from 25 Charlie and moved through the turbulent prop wash from the freighter up to the next lock for the same procedure. Of course it was now past nightfall. This time 25 Charlie kept shy of the wall and used more or less constant motor/thruster to power away from the concrete. Soon we were again on our way chasing the freighter up the Miraflores Lake and into the single Pedro Miguel lock. Slightly different procedure, 25 Charlie tied to the starboard wall so we had to do some rapid switching of fenders from starboard to port. I can tell you that having the six of us on board, plus advisor, was essential; it was busy. After Pedro Miguel we had a 24 mile run through the Culebra Cut, the Chagres River and the Gatun Lake to the Gatun Locks. All of 25 transit raced off ahead of us since we were slowest – although we maintained our top speed of 9.1 knots or so. 25 Daniel (note that the canal have their own substitute for Delta) meanwhile were whingeing about the lateness of the hour and wondered if they could anchor in the Lake while they still had some Bloody Mary Mix left………………and they also had asked most courteously if they could pass on our starboard side in the narrow Culebra Cut. After moving over they then came up and passed on the port side. Interesting! After racing up the Gatun Lake in the dark we could see on the AIS that our locking companions were ready to enter the downward chambers and half an hour in front……………champing at the bit to get through and out; but the Canal told them to wait for us. This time we hand liners were in front of the freighter; it was getting even more rehearsed by this stage; we swiftly got into the first lock, then the second and finally the third. Those gates opened and we were through and in the Caribbean; just after midnight. A pretty rapid transit we thought, there was no hanging around. By 0100 we were anchored off the flats near Colon, we would head into Shelter Bay Marina in the morning.

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