Friday, February 26, 2010

Panama Canal

The last week we spent in the historic neighbourhood of Panama City, relaxing and observing the streetlife from our third-floor balcony. Then, one day, we learned of a boat that needed line handlers to transit the Panama Canal. We got together with two other travellers, Romina and Ayack, and went to meet our captain in Portobello.
We got there early, so we had a few hours to explore the old fort that protected the once-richest Spanish port on the Carribean.
Then the captain showed up and we went aboard his yacht.
Next morning we motored to the port of Colon to pick up our advisor, a man telling the captain what to do but not responsible if something goes wrong.
On our way to the first set of locks, Gatun, we saw a lot of big container ships, auto-carriers and oil tankers.

For the Gatun locks, we were scheduled to go in after a ´small´ contasiner ship, so we had to wait to let him pass. As soon as the ship went into the locks we rafted up with two other yachts, us in the middle, and went into the chamber after the ship.
We lucked out the first time, because the linehadlers on other boats had to do all the work and we had nothing else to do but take pictures. We have to say that it was very surprising to see the level of water rise so fast, 30 feet in 3 minutes or so. The procedure was quite simple: the boat (or a raft of boats) is prevented from hitting the wall by four lines attached to cleats on the sides of the dock. The workers onshore throw us their light lines, we attach our heavier lines to them, they drag our lines up and secure them on their cleats. We, in turn, maintain tension on the lines as the water level changes. Easy.
It was getting dark as we got our onto the man-made Gatun lake, so we tied up to the bouy and raised a toast to the succesful first transfer.
Next morning, before the first light, we were underway to the next locks to lower us back down to the sea level. Shortly before the Pedro Miguel locks, we saw the biggest excavation on the Canal - the Gaillard Cut, an impressive mountain moved out of the way a hundred years ago. Wow.The final set of locks, Miraflores, made us sweat a little bit more. This time we arrived well ahead of the other yachts and we did not raft up with anybody, so everybody onboard had a job to do. The things got interesting when one of the workers on shore decided to simply let go of the line, which Anastasia was holding. It took us another five minutes to get the line back to him. Anastasia could not secure the line until it was attached onshore, and by the time the worker caught up, the rope was running out fast. By this time we were already pushed by the strong current dangerously close to the opposite wall of the lock (any captain´s worst nightmare). The advisor made things worse by jumping in and sticking his foot into the cleat (what was he thinking?), instead of helping doing the proper stoping knot. The rope jammed on his shoe and destroyed it, and we had a hell of a time trying to straighten out the boat and undo the mess.
We missed the wall by about a meter, and made it fine to the Pacific. Captain shook our hands and dropped us off at the marina. We went home, showered and went to sleep.


  1. haha what a great little sketch-)

  2. all is well that ends well :)
    what an adventure

  3. Hey guys,

    How are you? Have you seen any tsunami or anything?

  4. we heard about the earthquake in Chile, but there was no tsunami. The yachts were told to leave the marina on the Pacific side for a day, but nothing happened.

  5. I see. That's good.
    For how long are you going to stay there?

  6. Hey guys,

    What do you think about that stuff?


  7. And this one: