Friday, January 25, 2013

Irie’s Panama Canal Transit

Despite the fact that our carefully organized and long planned transit day was postponed by a day – which we found out the day of! - the whole procedure of going from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean went pretty smooth. It is good to be on the other side and the realization of new adventures and long passages to come is finally starting to sink in.

On Saturday, January 19th, we waited at Club Nautico in Colon for our extra line handler Toby, who arrived from Panama City. My cousin Griet and her husband, who had been visiting for a couple weeks, were our other two line handlers. Other than the captain and an advisor, four line handlers are required to be on board during the entire journey; in case you are the only boat going through “central lock”. Because of our transit delay, the stocking up of diesel, gasoline, water and some groceries had happened the days prior. From the moment our new friend hopped on, we motored Irie to the more comfortable Flats area, where lunch was had. Our first advisor, Francisco, was due to arrive at 14:00 and made it only 15 minutes later. By this time, eight car tires on the sides protected Irie from collisions and four long lines reaching the top of the locks, waited on the foredecks.

The question “Is the anchor up?” (Uh?) prompted us to get moving and at cruising speed, we reached for the Gatun Locks. Right before the entrance, we rafted up to a Privilege 49 catamaran, which had another monohull attached. Our threesome entered the first of the Gatun Locks without problems. The big catamaran’s engines and captain did all the moving about, while our and the monohull’s line handlers attended to the long lines. Panamanian canal crew threw small lines with a monkey fist on the end – protect those solar panels! –to Irie and we attached the long lines to them. Then, the guys on shore pulled the big lines up and secured them to bollards. The lock doors closed and the water rose. Line handlers in the four corners of the three boat flotilla pulled in the slack while we all went up, in three times/locks, to the level of Gatun Lake. Once in the lake, we tied up to the big cat again, which was attached to a big mooring and Francisco was picked up. After dinner, drinks, talks and dishes, we went to bed on a motionless surface. Phase 1 completed!

Our second advisor would show up at 6:30 the following morning, so on Sunday, January 20th, the alarm clock beeped at 6:00, anticipating a slow start and a respectable delay from the Canal Authority. It came as a surprise – and a sleepy shock – to hear the pilot boat stop by Irie at 6:15. Our new, cheery and relaxed advisor Ahmed jumped on board – did anyone notice? – and requested a cup of coffee to start the day. Since the water wasn’t boiling yet and most of the other boats began to move, we suggested starting the long 4.5 hour haul through Gatun Lake as well. Coffee and breakfast followed soon after. During the relatively boring trip over brown water and past green islands, we kept an eye out for crocodiles and spotted one. Big ships and “small” ships passed by and dredging machines were ever present. We managed to fly our jib for an hour or so, and gained extra speed, but nobody seemed to be concerned as to what time we would arrive at the next lock.

Around 11:00 we entered the Pedro Miguel Lock, where we descended one level in the presence of two monohulls. The bigger one sat in the center and its captain steered the group through, all the way to the Pacific side, while line handlers on the other boats let out line as the water level dropped. One mile further down along, around noon, the tricky Miraflores Locks awaited us. The current and water movements in these last two locks are the worst, but the line handlers (mostly) did their jobs and when the final gates opened, Irie disconnected from the group and steered her way into the Pacific Ocean! 

The advisors were picked up under the famous Bridge of the Americas. Then, we needed to make one last stop at the Balboa Yacht Club, where we patiently “waited” – captain Mark struggling with strong current and heavy wind – until the launch finally picked up our eight tires and four lines for eight dollars. To rent the lot, the cost is $60 for the lines and $2 per tire. The total price for our transit – without the $891 buffer in case of damage to the canal – was $984. We did not use an agent and it was pretty easy to arrange for everything ourselves. 

We had made good timing and were settled in La Playita anchorage (near the Amador – or causeway – in Panama City) before 15:00, and celebrated our new feat and location with a glass of champagne. Now, we have to deal with high tides, frigid water, lots of provisioning and the last preparations for a new episode in our lives!

Rafting up - also called nestling up - with two other boats

In the Gatun Locks going up

Sunrise in Gatun Lake - part 2 has started

Wim is explaining European geography to advisor Ahmed, who taught Wim some history lessons

Griet on the lookout for crocodiles, while Mark lets the autopilot do its (his) job on Gatun Lake

One of the many dredging machines along the canal

Pretty Centennial Bridge with Gaillard' Cut behind it

The lock doors of the last Miraflores Lock open. Welcome to the Pacific Ocean...

Bridge of the Americas

Skyline of Panama City seen from the canal

Cheers to a successful transit and arrival in the Pacific

No comments: