Through the Panama Canal

For all those who have been following my blog, my apologies for posting this late.

After a few days enjoying Panama City and the delicious seafood that the country is known for, we prepared for transiting the canal before the next race that would take me home to New York City. As part of the preparation, we needed to make four mooring lines of 125 feet, which would be used to hold us in the middle of the locks as the incoming water first lifted our boat up and then lowered it on the other end of the canal, 50 miles away. A canal official also came down to measure the boat, both outside for length and inside for volume.

The following morning dawned early as we got set to finally go through the canal. Around 7 am, we slipped lines from Flamenco marina and headed out to meet our pilot near one of the green buoys marking the entrance to the canal.

The rules for transiting the canal are pretty strict. First, you have to book a transit time, then when you arrive, you need to arrange for an admeasuring officer to come and measure the boat, both the outside length and interior volume. Once that is done, you are cleared to transit and just need to wait for the canal authorities to give you a time to make the transit. Boats need to have four mooring lines a minimum of 125 ft long and have a 3 ft in diameter loop at one end. In addition, the boat must have adequate fenders to prevent contact with the walls of the locks as well as enough line handlers to handle the mooring lines in the locks. With 18 people on Singapore, line handlers were not an issue!

As we headed towards the canal, the first sight greeting us was the bridge of the Americas, which was for many years the only fixed bridge connecting the North and South American land masses. It was very exciting to see us heading towards the bridge as it represents the start of the Panama Canal on the Pacific side. Transiting the canal would be a dream come true for me, a journey that I have wanted to experience for a very long time!

One factoid about the Panama Canal which is not widely known, is that the canal doesn’t actually go West to East (or vice versa) but because of the geography of Panama (slightly S-shaped) goes Northwest from the Pacific side to the Atlantic or Southeast from the Atlantic side to the Pacific. What that means is that you actually travel “backwards” on the transit and will end up in the Atlantic being further West from where you started at the beginning of the canal in the Pacific Ocean! Which brings up another interesting factoid (I heard on the tour bus in Panama City), Panama is the only country in which the sun rises over the Pacific and sets over the Atlantic.

But, I digress. Crossing under the bridge, I couldn’t help and look up with a big smile on my face. I am actually doing this, I thought! I think I felt a little bit like a kid in a candy store – all giddy and happy! It took us about an hour to reach the first set of locks, the Miraflores and just after that, the Pedro Miguel locks. Together, the three sets of locks on the Pacific side lift ships roughly 87 feet before the trip across Panama begins.

Prior to entering Miraflores locks, we rafted up with one of the other Clipper boats, De Lage Landen while Derry-Londonderry was ahead of us. We followed a freighter and tug in and watched in awe as the gates to the first lock shut and the water level quickly rose to allow us to move to the next lock. From there, we motored ahead roughly a mile to the final lock on the Pacific side.

Crossing Panama through the canal was actually interesting as the scenery ranged from passing through a cut which divided the Continental Divide in Panama (Gaillard Cut), to lush mist-shrouded jungles lining Gatun lake. Along with the 10 hour transit, we also passed a number of freighters, car carriers and ore carriers as they slowly made their way along the canal to the Pacific. There were also numerous dredging operations underway as well as construction on a new part of the canal which is designed to allow the new class of larger freighters and super tankers to use the canal. As we passed one area of construction, a series of large explosions and plumes of smoke and dust were heard and seen just behind us as the workers blasted away at the bedrock.

 

  

We arrived at Gatun locks on the Atlantic side about an hour before sunset and were quickly led into the locks for our 87 foot descent to the end of the canal and the Caribbean sea. As the last set of gates opened, I couldn’t help but think that I was almost home, finally back in the same ocean, if just a tad south of home (well, 2,200 miles still to go, but after 9,000 miles across the Pacific and down the coast of Mexico and Central America, why quibble).

Coming out of the locks, we motored along the last bit of the canal and were treated to the sight of eight large crocodiles leisurely resting on the canal bank. Good thing we weren’t planning on doing any swimming in the area! Finally, as the sun set, we headed to Shelter Bay Marina in Colon, Panama to drop off our pilot and wait for the start of the next race from Panama directly to New York.

To see more photos, please visit the Photos 2 page here.

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