Posts Tagged ‘Panama Canal’

Panama Canal Transit – Hind Sight.

Monday, January 20th, 2014

I won’t go into the details needed to transit the Panama Canal. There are so many references to the ins and outs of the procedures I would only be parroting others. However; there are two things I believe are often over looked.

First; if you use local line handlers and or an agent; make sure they understand that when you begin lockage they will turn off the cell phones and put them in a basket stored below. They should not be near the owner nor able to be heard by the phone owner. If anyone refuses to accept this small request either find a new agent and/or new line handlers.  Case in point. The boat that transversed the day prior to us used local line handlers. While they were in one of the locks descending, the handler on the starboard stern received a phone call. Their boat; a DeFever 50 something was beginning to “hang on the line”.  Now; something has to give. The DeFever has some pretty substantial bits for tying to; however not one of them could support the weight of the boat. The line began to literally twist the cleat right off it’s base before the captain or advisor noticed and got the attention of the line handler to ease the line. The advisors  say “don’t cleat the lines”. That’s all well and good but one still needs to pay attention and the line handler was distracted from doing their job by a phone call.  I don’t know the final disposition of the event. I don’t know if there was any renumeration for the cost of replacement and repair.  But the problem can be solved rather easily; NO CELL PHONES OUT DURING LOCKAGE!

Second; you and your partner will be stressed. You can lie to me and say “naw” we’ve experience. Yeah, you may have crossed oceans, maybe been in some storms, dealt  with many surprises but in transversing the Canal you have what all

Hope She Can Stop!

Hope She Can Stop!

cruisers hate; a schedule! I’ve traveled the upper Mississippi in a boat, many locks. I’ve been through the Ocachobee Waterway several times with locks, been through the Dismal Swamp canal, again more locks. But none of those adventures require you to, once you have begun, finish at a certain time OR, and notice I said that in large case, or be required to hire a tow at roughly $1,000 / hour to drag you through.  If there is a problem you can’t stop and fix it then continue on. One boat we understood became incapacitated and they fined the boat a daily rate for just being in the canal. So….. you will be stressed even if you attempt to reduce it by making some early transits with other boats so you know what is happening. Thus, assign someone (not you, not your partner), someone that has no permanent connection to the boat as the Photographer.  When not actively line handling they can take pictures of you all, pictures of the boat from different angles and just plain pictures of anything. You will appreciate the pictures when you are through and successfully anchored or tied up on the other side.

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long

Panama Canal – Winter Solstice

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Well….we’re doing it. No turning back now. Our mules (2 cute and 1 ugly as sin 🙂 ) have arrived from the states and I’m more worried now about how a failure would impact them then I am about the cost of problems in the canal. They basically brought 3 bags of stuff for Elysium. Most of the supplies are spares; but, two tools go to almost immediate use; a cordless drill (god awful expensive here for some reason), and a cordless impact driver, a magic tool I never knew about.

And two items they bought are needed immediately. They are on the “to do list” for the day of their arrival and the following day, the day before our transit.  First things first.

With 5 people on the boat we have a basic biological need for TWO working heads. Yep, not one, but two. We don’t want to be having to take numbers for their use.  Jenny brought down some spare parts and upon her arrival at the boat, like a boy on Christmas morning I began to tear into the packages looking for that special gift. This wasn’t any gift; this was to keep the toilet from leaking!  This piece has a great deal of value and upon it’s discovery I grabbed the couple of tools I would need to install the fitting and began to finish the project began 2 weeks earlier.

Luckily, the task finished as planned and we again had two working heads, for now.

The second project I neglected to mention in my previous post: W/ had been reminding me; almost daily, that we need to check the navigation lights. Finally, one night after Happy Hour at the Dock we weren’t too tired and she flipped the switch while I checked the lights.  Oh – Oh. Damn!  “Are you sure you hit the right switch”? I called out. “Turn them all on”!

After some dreaded feelings I made the decision to simply purchase more lights. We had purchased the OMG lights when we were refurbishing the boat. We actually have two sets of navigation lights; one for sailing only and one for whenever we are running under power. And since we are powering through the canal we need to ensure that if, just if, the advisor and boats and timing isn’t right and we go through at night we are legal. Right now we’re not. I had already replaced one of the OMG lights under warranty after 2 years of cruising.  That light still works but now the 2 other originals have failed. If possible; when I find all of the “quality” marine gear has failed it is time to change brands; however, to change brands now would entail much more work and time than we have.

I go online and order two identical replacements and have them shipped to Jenny. She brings them and I prepare to install them. Removing the other non functioning lights almost loomed problematic. But as Dirk had brought my new impact driver I was able to remove the SS bolts from the AL body lights.  Oops. Not quite. I broke off the bolt heads and then the lights came off their bracket. Ain’t much a vice-grip won’t do!  After the body was removed I was able with some PB-Blaster to remove the rest of the bolt. Now for the replacements.

While they were the same part number they were not the EXACT same lights. I needed to modify the aft bracket a bit and that light went in smoothly. The front bracket needed no modification and thus before the Sun reached it’s zenith we were legal. Time to store stuff and ready the boat. The dinghy was loaded on with muscle from mule number one; Dirk, and we cleaned up the deck for our 4 – 125′  x 1″ lines as well as 8 – 24″ fenders.  We had two more fenders to hang. The mules had informed the Captain and mate that if possible we would upon exiting the canal sail to Taboga and pick up a mooring for the evening. Well…. we are crossing during the Winter Solstice; the shortest day of the year. Being outnumbered the Captain and mate agreed; IF, we exited the canal soon enough to have light for this endeavor. Thankfully, everyone being a sailor found this solution acceptable.

All was ready to go by noonish and after some heartfelt goodbyes we motored out of Shelter Bay Marina; our boat’s home for a little more than a year, and went out to the “flats”. There I tried dropping the XYZ anchor only to have it slide around in the soft muck of bottom. I’m at times rather dense and after two more attempts at anchoring with the XYZ I dropped the trusty CQR instead.  No sooner had the anchor hit the bottom than harbor control contacted us and told us we would see our advisor at 5 pm. Erick, our agent, had indicated we would be boarded at 4:30. Well, what’s another half an hour?

A bit after 5 we we had our advisor on board and by 5:30 had retrieved our anchor and were well on our way to the first set of locks. We were lucky, lucky that I had installed the new lights as we would be going through… when it was dark.

Sure enough the Sun had dropped past the horizon by the time the first set of doors had opened and we motored in, W/ at the helm, Dirk and Silvie handling the bow, Jenny and I the stern. The men at the lock were quite good with throwing the monkey fists at the boat and we all secured them to the oversized lines that would maintain Elysium in the middle of the lock. W/ motored at walking speed to the middle and the linesmen dropped large eyes over huge bollards while we half cleated the bitter ends to our boat, pulling in line as the boat rose trying to keep her centered. It wasn’t easy, nor was it hard; but it did take a fair bit of work one side pulling, one letting slack go, then pulling some more to maintain our center station. After rising up approximately 30′ in a matter of minutes we retrieved our lines, held onto the monkey fist and walked the boat forward 1,000 feet to the next lock. There the process was repeated and repeated one more time. One hundred feet above sea level we motored out into Lake Gatun.

By now it was pitch black out. Our advisor had us turn off of the channel to a mooring buoy on the other side of the new locks. We approached slowly cutting through the night with some hand torches and more rapidly than I would have imagined located the buoy and tied off. A few minutes later our advisor was picked up by the Canal Authority and we were alone, on our buoy, next to a canal party boat.  Damn!  Luckily they too shut down close to 10 and we all found solace in the land of dreams. W/ on cushions on the floor, Jenny in the  Port Berth, I in the Starboard berth, and Dirk and Silvie in the suite known as the aft cabin.

One thing I never thought about was the need for 5 berths in a boat. Crossing the Panama Canal you are required to have 4 line handlers and 1 boat driver.  We had always understood that to have lots of berths means you will fill them.  For us that has not been true but for crossing the canal we needed to make due.  We had also left one cushion off our boat that would have converted the dining table to a double; but W/ didn’t want to cover up the Teak Bannister so we left that one in some trash bin I know not where.

A little after 6:30 am our new advisor arrived and we were off; but, no Banana cut. We had traveled that pretty route last year on Blue Whale but our advisor said that where they are at now in canal building that route is closed. Again…. Damn. So W/ drove and we all shared more stories about cruising and I’m sure someone even made up a few. The locks today were all down hill. In the first set we rose appoximatly 100′ and now we’ll drop close to the same amount for the last set. I said close to because the two oceans are not the same height on both sides of Panama and they don’t have the same tides. On the Caribbean side the tide is all of about 1′ and on the Pacific side it is between 12′ and 20′. For the most part luck was with us on the downward leg. For the most part…

First, the aft head appeared plugged. I was slightly emotionally askance at the problem as I had worked on that head during our 6 months at Shelter Bay and had just replaced the raw water intake fitting. But in sailing and especially cruising… it is what it is; deal with it. Thus first on the list of repairs tomorrow would be to unplug the aft head. Still rather smug that we were really, really moving Elysium to the Pacific we all hung about in the shade of the cockpit watching the ships cruise past and enjoying the beauty of an uncommercialized, albeit, almost natural jungle shore. After all, the lake is man made. 🙂

Half way across Lake Gatun Dirk told me our bilge pump was running. OH-OH! Our bilge pump almost never runs. If it does there is a problem. I ran below; first checking to make sure the hose had not somehow come off the stuffing box; all secure. then to the engine room. Water under the engine. I look for leaks. I can’t find any. Dirk checks for leaks he can’t find any. We trace the raw water route through all the plumbing and we can’t find any leaks. W/ passed the helm to Jenny and she and I begin to remove the water from the engine pan.  We’re making progress and finally it is 99% empty. Then I see that the water is high in the Aqua Lift reservoir. It should be dry there. I check all the connections of the exhaust system and find no leaks. W/ and I remove that water. Miraculously the water level stays down. No leaks. We can (Dirk and I) only surmise that I must have a leak in the generator. Relieved we head back up on deck to what feels like air-conditioning and make sure the rest of the crew knows…We….are….NOT….sinking! However; every so often Dirk sings “I’ve got a sinking feeling….” to W/s frown.

Downward our line handlers were getting a break. We would be tying up to the party boat that was moored with us near the Gatun Locks.  They and another boat would set up first on the side wall and we would be on the outside and tie to them. Lock one went smooth as silk. W/  backs Elysium away a bit to give the two tourist boats room to tie up in the next lock first and there we get in a bit of trouble. Our advisor thinks because W/ is at the helm he needs to tell her a little more what to do. We hand off the forward line and she backs up to hand off the stern line but we’re twisting. I tell her to move forward and kick it away from the party boat and he’s saying more backwards. We get crossed up and our Elysium is leaning against the party boat but soon W/ sees what is going on and corrects the situation with nothing hurt but a little pride.  Tied up and ready to go, again we drop like a rock and almost no effort is required of the line handlers, only handing lines off and picking up lines. Finally we proceed to the final lock for our Pacific life and that too leaves us without any additional adventure. The last “gotcha” in the locks is when the fresh water mixes with the salt water. The fresh water ends up rushing across the surface of the lock and can often push a boat somewhere it ought not be and in contact with something that has no place in it touching. The fresh water rushing across the surface gives you the appearance of control when you actually have none. But as we had to cast off first we high tailed it out of the locks and out of the way of the much faster boats and had no issue with the mixing water. By about 4 pm we were out of the last lock. Taboga required approximately 2 hours travel and we needed to hand off the adviser, get rid of the fender balls and dock lines, after which with the Sun looking to kiss the horizon soon we choose to hang in Panama City.

Next up, the Bridge of the Americas, dropping off the adviser lines and fenders, and hopefully picking up a mooring at Balboa yacht club. After two pilot boats cruise by and leave the adviser looking worried that he would have to live with the 5 of us on the boat for the evening one finally showed up. Off he went.  We contacted Balboa YC for a mooring, $30 / night, and while I had heard they had some moorings available now there were none. Plan B, head to one of the two anchorages for the night. Jenny had one more day with us and so we would hang here, the girls would spend  a tourist day in town, Dirk and I would attack the head problem. Such fun we had to look forward too! BUT, we made it. Elysium is now in the Pacific and we continue on our journey to …..float west.

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long

PS. This time there were just to many pictures to choose a few. If you prefer you might choose the pictoral essay.

Yin Yang (Part 2)

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Woke up
Got outta bed
Dragged a comb across my head…

Our Mooring

Our Mooring

Well, I’ll skip that last line.  I was up nigh on 6 am. About when the adviser was to show up. Fortunately the Canal Zone was on Caribbean time and he was running a little late. Logan was up shortly after and we awaited the pilot boat’s delivery.

Soon we saw the pilot boat cruising across the lake and our new adviser made a Superman like leap aboard. The Pilot Boat pulled away, not even coming close to touching the Whale.  Amado is our new adviser. Professional all the way. We promptly dropped the lines from the HUGE mooring buoy and began moving S across the lake.

The am was simply beautiful; Sun was rising, a threatening blue sky, light breeze and a calm lake, and we

Banana Cut

Banana Cut

expected or shall I say hoped for a grand day crossing the isthmus. We headed South through the Banana Cut; a service channel that would shorten our trip,

Captain Logan at the Helm

Captain Logan at the Helm

be more scenic, and avoid the close proximity of any ships.  By the time we were underway the entire crew were up and Caroline had put out a scrumptious looking fruit spread with some Yogurt Parfaits thrown in for a light breakfast. All morning we enjoyed picking at the food  while simultaneously harvesting Amado’s brain for all things canalish.

In the US developers would have bought off the  politicals enough that a similar canal would be lined with million dollar homes. In Panama; there are no pleasure boats allowed moving on the canal after 6 pm and there are NO residential facilities dotting the shores; period.  Remember, we’re not a pleasure boat here but a boat making a passage so we’re not in the 6 pm curfew group.  In addition we have an adviser with a radio that stays connected to the canal personnel at all times. Anyone can launch a boat or jet ski at one of the few ramps  on the lake and go out and enjoy the lake.  But by 6 pm they’re to be off the lake or else.  Not sure what exactly the “or else”  is but a few years ago there was a yacht club that was on the lake with boats like Elysium and the Whale.  Amado said that sometimes the yacht owners would have a few cocktails too many and venture out on the lake way after hours. Eventually the canal administrator tired of this and in one swoop of his pen wiped the yacht club out. It is no more. There is a building now falling down and a dock or two sinking into the lake. That’s all that is left. For individuals caught out on the lake late or wanting to stay longer there are huts at various places where they can hole up for the night.

Mark and Karen Keeping Watch on the Whales Bow

Mark and Karen Keeping Watch on the Whales Bow

We passed one of the only lakeside facility, the Smithsonian has a Tropical Research station on the lake that does scientific work. Amado indicated that we could take tour of the research station  by signing up in Panama City. Now something else to add to our plate. 🙂  We saw no ships in the Banana Cut but did see where they were mining for cement for the new canal additions and where they were hauling material dredged from the canal bottom for deposit elsewhere.  The canal is in constant dredge operation as during the rainy season Panama has many mud slides, often attempting to silt in the channel.

I discovered what a PanaMax Ship is too. A ship designed specifically to fill the lock of the Panama Canal, thereby maxing out all the capacity of the lock chamber for carrying goods between the oceans. You can often tell a Panamax ship because it has 13 containers across on the boats stern.

Coming up on lunch the sky began to cloud over and a small amount of rain began to appear. We all brought foul weather gear out to the pilot house in prep for needing it as we begin our lock down. But luck was with us, as we approached the

Going Down?

Going Down?

lock the sprinkling abated and we entered with cloudy, but relatively cool and dry conditions. Locking down on a hot summer day is akin to being in a sauna.  As the boat lowers in the lock the breeze is blocked by the walls and you end up in a hole approximately

In the Pit

In the Pit

50′ deep. Any breeze that is available simply travels over our position not cooling any of us. So the lack of Sun and the lack of rain was welcome. Going down is easier then going up.  The four line handlers still go through the drill of securing the monkey fist to the 125′ lines, feeding the lines out for the lock handlers to drop on a bollard and then wait. The doors close and we begin our descent.  Going down we don’t pull. We  ease the lines out as the boat requires, letting the weight of the boat drag more line out. With lines 1/2 wrapped on a cleat we just slack off, sometimes one side to move the boat to port or the other to move it to starboard or if we’re lucky and she’s actually in the middle we both would ease our lines. Caroline and Mark would do the same on the bow. We further got lucky as we were the only boat locking down so we didn’t share the chamber with any others; including any large ships with HUGE propellers churning up the water in front of us. This lock was easy and we motored out finished with 2/3’s of our lockage.

The following lock was less than an hour away and we were making good time. The Whale can move.  Time for lunch.  We approached the lock and were early enough that our adviser suggested we tie to one of the moorings. We tried to bow tie but

Caroline da Boss

Caroline da Boss

the wind and currents were fickle here and Logan was concerned about the mooring hitting the boat between the tires.  He is a good captain, aware of what’s going on with the crew and how anything is going to effect the boat.  Always watching, always anticipating.  Caroline too is a   good  “Boss” and had already prepared a huge tray of Ziti and a salad. Like starving dogs we woofed down the delicious food she had prepared and waited for the ship in the locks to clear out.  Amado told us that the ship was to pick up the mooring we were on (the ship would pick up

PanaMax on a Mooring

PanaMax on a Mooring

both moorings actually) and we would need to vacate.  And vacate we did choosing not to argue with the adviser nor the ship. The adviser could call upon the canal gods to fine the Whale and the ship could call upon Neptune to sink the Whale. Neither option viable. So we moved off the mooring as lunch was cleared and motored to the other side of the channel away from; as Caroline describes it, a RORO.  A RORO is a car carrier and stands for Roll On Roll Off.

After the RowRow cleared the chamber Amado had us slowly move in. We were lucky again as we would be the only vessel going down. Seems such a waste. A 1,000 foot lock for  a 60′ boat. But for us the lockage was

Waiting to see the Pacific

Waiting to see the Pacific

sweet. Again no rain, but clouds, and no ship which meant no propeller turbulence as the ship moves out of the lock chamber. We all took our positions, caught and tied the monkey fist and in 10 minutes or so were 30′ lower and only 30′ now above the Pacific Ocean. 🙂

Once the lock handlers cast the lines off the bollards we hauled them in while still attached to the monkey fist and Logan moved the Whale forward into the next chamber. There we fed the  125′ lines back out and up the wall to be secured for our final descent. Down again in about 10 minutes and we awaited the doors to be opened to the Pacific. While we were in the locks Amado had contacted the lockmaster to have the camera zoom in on the Whale and those watching could get a close up of the “strenuous work” the line handlers had to do. 🙂

In the Pacific

In the Pacific

The doors swung open and out we went. The Bauhaus Cruising Guide identifies a lot of short lived currents moving every which way at the Pacific entrance to the locks (the guide states it is due in part to the mixing of the salt water and the fresh water from the canal) and Logan rapidly moved the Whale down the center attempting to keep us in the currents the shortest amount of time. Hard to believe but the Pacific side smelled different. Maybe because I wanted it to or maybe it was the big city of Panama that we smelled. We all breathed a sigh of relief. The major work was done for W/ and I and for Karen and Mark.

Bye Amodo

Bye Amodo

The Crew and an Advisor

The Crew and an Advisor

Amado would be picked up by a pilot boat on the other side the  Bridge of the Americas, then the Whale had a slip in a marina that we would end up at.  Before Amado left we celebrated with the brew of the “cruisers choice” – beer; all except Amado – the consummate professional who had a can of carbonated water! The breeze was picking up and the swell was back (an ocean vs a lake) and we all looked forward to an evening in the marina.

dabossatdahelm

Caroline Womaning the Helm

Caroline (the Boss) was to take the boat into the slip but choosing a safer course she told Logan to handle that particular task. Guess that’s called delagate and it’s much easier to do when you’re the  “Boss”. Logan moved the boat effortlessly around in the marina and backed into the slip. Thereupon we immediately discovered there was a surge entering the mouth of the harbor.  Logan and Caroline dug through the lockers for more lines to secure the boat and when finished the Whale looked like it was caught in a spiders web. Caught she was but she would be securely tied there through the night.  We gently rocked and rolled, tugging on the lines, listening to the creaking of them in the hawse holes and shared some sundowners as by now it was getting late. Late enough to walk and fill our bottomless stomachs with some good food. Caroline wasn’t cooking tonight!

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long

ps W/ and I would like to thank the crew of the Blue Whale for inviting us along and sharing in their adventure. For all 6 of us the Panama Canal transit was a first and the delight showed on the smiles each of us carried across the isthmus of Panama. We wish them the best and sincerely hope our wakes cross again.

Yin Yang (Part 1)

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Taoism provide an interesting outlook  on life. A way to see the good in the bad, a perspective. We met Logan (L) and Caroline (C)  when they arrived at Shelter Bay Marina. Captain and Mate or Swab and Boss depending on who you talk to. They were taking the boat Blue Whale across the big ditch; the Panama Canal in about a week, and as happenstance would have it were looking for line handlers. W/ and I had been talking of the need to make a transit before we take our boat through and thus fate brought the  4 of us together. We signed on to be slaves to the Blue Whale and we would be transiting in about a week.

Two days before the transit it rained. This wasn’t really a bad sign as we’re in the rainy season. Logan and Caroline or as Caroline prefers, Caroline and Logan, were prepping the boat. Wash, wax, polish, have measured for the canal authorities (you pay by length) , get tires (used as fenders) and long  lines. The tires are to protect the hull and the lines needed for a transit must be  150′ in length. Intelligently they then purchased some T shirts from the KMart of Colon; Madison, for about a buck fifty each. One for each tire. One must protect the hull. The walls of the locks are much rougher than the hull of pleasure boats.

One day before the transit it rained. Still, not a bad thing. In Panama it tends to rain mostly for two or three days,  then clear up for a beautiful and hot day, maybe  two.  The Whale with her dinghy on the davits was too long and put them into a different cost group, needing an expensive pilot instead of the more reasonable adviser so they removed the dinghy to store it on the foredeck.  Stacked on 3 huge fenders the dinghy would ride upright from the Atlantic to the Pacific pointing the wrong way.

The day of the transit we were preparing Elysium for our absence and moving aboard the Whale. We’d baked some Brownies (in reality W/ baked and I ate) as of course brownies being a quality  Junk food is in one of the major food groups and necessary for any passage. We helped C/L put T’s on the tires and tie them off along each side. Karen and Mark had now joined us and assisted in the final prep of the Whale.  Boats transiting the isthmus  need to have  one Captain, and a minimum of four line handlers. We actually had a spare line handler.

Ironically, back in the  late ’70’s  when W/ and I were first looking to purchase a sailboat we had taken our first vacation to Wrightsville Beach N. Carolina and then on to Florida.  In Wrightsville Beach we looked at the hugely popular Westsail 32 and went on a demonstrator sail there.  The Westsail Corp had recently opened up a new production facility there and had what they called a “Cruising Center” where one could see the boats, sail on one, and buy one; all of which we wanted to do. So we paid our money and a character not much older then us, Skip Fry, took us out for our 3 hour sail, AKA the Gilligan tour. It was a nice day, Sunny, relatively calm seas and we came away with the belief we could do this and this company  had a boat for us. We had wanted the 42′ Center Cockpit (the one we have now)  but Skip in a quite lucid moment had said “How soon do you want to get outta Dodge”?  We could maybe, just maybe have bought the 42 and  completed the interior; however, the 32 was more doable for a young couple like us, and the 28 would have availed us of leaving Dodge; well, we could have left much sooner. But the 32 it was and we ordered and bought and sailed  Principia for 15 years and sailed her about 25,000 nm in that time.  We never saw Skip again.

We were checking out C/L on their website as  I’m sure they were doing the same of us, when I came across an entry on the message board of an older Blue Whale site by…. Skip Fry. Now there can’t be many people in the world named Skip Fry so I asked Logan. He said, yeah, it was the Skip Fry who was associated with Westsail way back when.  Such irony that he took us on our first 3 hour sail and he was actually  to come do the canal transit with us. But, unfortunately Skip had some shore side duties that called and he wouldn’t be able to make it down for the transit. Thus Karen and Mark from Susurra were invited. Mark accepted and then Karen acquiesced (she was feeling a little under the wx) and so the 6 slaves of the Whale were gathering to take her from the Atlantic to the Pacific (the Blue Whales true home – Pun intended).

In the am of Day Zero we had the tires on and the supplies loaded, it was blue sky’s, sunny, and looking like she’d be a sweet day to begin a  transit.  We had a group lunch to discuss methods and responsibilities of each station, expectations of the placement of the Whale in the locks and to share in a few more stories. We left lunch satiated and gathered any final items we needed prior to our meet on the Whale. Our transit time had been pushed ahead two hours over the last two days, today it was pushed  back two hours and we would depart around 3 pm to head out to the “flats”  and there we would  pick up our adviser.

The adviser is the individual that connects with the Panama Canal lock masters and tells us what to do. Logan gets instructions from him (I’m not sure if there are any female advisers) and relays anything we need to us.  The adviser has the paper work on the Whale and for every boat / ship  transiting the canal during our passage. He knows who will be where and where we need to be to keep the function of the canal running as smoothly as possible. We were now to pick him up at the flats about 6 pm. We expected to be there early and were told in fact to be there early (I guess some boats just never show up, and so… we… would… be… there… early.

Lines cast off and pulled aboard, tires with the T’s  out, we motored out of the marina to the flats with an ominous looking  sky.  While the morning teased us with a beautiful day, the afternoon was looking to heavily spritz us.  L/ pushed the speed of the Whale a bit and we arrived at the flats about 3 minutes  before the rain and a little wind. Anchor down L/ called the canal control center on channel 12 and told them we

Wendy, Karen, Mark hoping the Rain Clears

Wendy, Karen, Mark hoping the Rain Clears

were in the anchorage area and ready.  They advised us that now the time of arrival for the adviser would be 6 pm.  Now an hour later than when we had left. About 6 we called again and the adviser would soon come. He arrived  about 7 pm and we picked up the anchor. (Note to self:  I need to get our deck wash down in place before we make the crossing in Elysium.)  The mud we picked up off the bottom I”m sure was imported from the Chesapeake Bay. It stuck to the anchor chain like glue and smelled like; well- I’ll save you the olfactory imagery. The only way to remove the mud was to flush with copious amounts of water. Another 30 minutes gone by, the anchor stored, the adviser was now on board and we motored out to cross the isthmus.

We made good time to the first set of locks but there we had discovered we’d been pushed back another hour. The locks don’t stop for much, rain being one thing they don’t stop for; but, rain will slow transits  down and so we had another wait. We were going to lock through behind a smallish container ship 700′ or so and they were having some difficulty getting it lined up to slide into the lock chamber.  Now close to 9 ish  (three hours later than our appointed time) we were slowly entering the first of 3 chambers that would raise us close to 100′. Once in the chamber and the doors closed our jobs would now be coming on line. W/ and I had the stern quarters, Mark and the Boss (Caroline) were on the bow. Small lines with a tightly tied knot and a small weight inside called a Monkey Fist came flying (were thrown at the Whale) from the lock walls. Bow lines first and then the lines for the stern.  Everyone tied the Monkey Fist to the 125′ lines and the handlers on the wall pulled the Monkey Fist with the now attached boat lines back up to the bollards.  One of my knots let go! Oops. Franscisco (our adviser for this part of the trip) then helped, picked up the Monkey fist when it was tossed to the boat and I watched how he tied the fist to the line; a simple square knot.  Now I know!  Locking up is the most difficult part of the transit.

When one locks up the line handlers get to work – literally. We were passing through what is called “Center Chamber” and so each corner of the Blue Whale had a line running to a bollard on the lock wall.  As the boat rises, the lines slack, and the handlers (of which W/ and I were two of them) had to pull in the slack to assist in keeping the boat in the center chamber.  There are three chambers we traverse rising approx 30′ per chamber.  In one I watch as the water came in and we rose approx 7′ in 30 seconds. That’s moving!

In the 2nd and 3rd chambers we rose about the same speed and W/ and I were getting feeling the strain of the wet stiff lines while  continuously adjusting  the  lines trying to keep the Whale in the middle.

Going UP!

Going UP!

Fortunately this was the last lock for the day and the last lock going up. We slowly followed behind the container ship staying as far astern of his prop wash as possible. Fransisco (our adviser on this leg) has us immediately turn outside the channel and head to a mooring buoy to the East. There we side tied to the buoy and about 10:00 pm we were finished with 1/3 of the transit. One third by work, not by distance. Of the 80 nm trek  we’d gone less then 8 nm.  A little after 11:00 pm. our adviser was picked up and we were discussing if we needed to eat or sleep.  Food won the first leg but sleep eventually overtook us. We fell into our berths around midnight for a short sleep.  The adviser for day two was arriving approx 6 am. Hopefully, that’s Caribbean time.

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long