Well, its been a long time since we maneuvered in a monohull, and we casually offered our expertise to a fellow cruiser during a grocery run one day to help him with a Panama Canal Transit from Colon to Panama City. Besides the fact that we would do anything to get out of the marina for a day, Transiting the Canal is like a rite of passage for most Sailors.
John is on a solo circumnavigation on a Hylas 54 named ¾ Time. Its named after a Jimmy Buffet song, if your not familiar.
We recruited our friends Steph and Stu, and off we went for our overnight adventure to the “other side”.
It’s a two day episode, crossing the canal in a sailboat. They give you a distinct passage-time, which,… of course, is adhered to strictly… strictly in Caribbean time of course. We motored around “the Flats” area of the canal zone waiting for the Pilot. This is when we found out there was no Beer on board!
NO BEER !!!
Our Pilot finally arrive at about 5:30 pm, when his proposed boarding time to our vessel was 3pm. All boats must have a designated “pilot” aboard who is arranged by the Panama Canal Harbor Authority. We actually had two,.. one for the evening passage, and one for the second day.
We made it thru the first set of locks in the dark, all by ourselves, as opposed to being tied to another vessel. The Gatun Locks ( on the Caribbean side of the Canal) consist of three locks taking you from the Ocean into Lake Gatun.Once you have entered into the lock, the gates shut and water starts to fill (or empty depending on your direction) taking you the the height of the next lock. In multiple stages, you move your boat higher and higher ( or lower and lower) until the final lock where you will be at the level of the lake ( or sea).
Once there you spend the night on a mooring where the first pilot gets off and the next one joins you the next morning. We finally got time to eat dinner… Fried chicken tonight!
Beer..??? Not so lucky.
Most people believe that when going from the Caribbean to the Pacific Oceans, you travel from East to West, but in actuality, it’s a North to South voyage with a slightly easterly direction as seen in the image below.
Morning came and our Pilot arrival time was 0730 and he was promptly on time again… Caribbean time, that is, at 1030. And off we motored thru the jungle lake toward the Pacific, all the while searching for Crocs.
Lunch on board was fried Chicken,.. or pizza, and soda… or water. Nothing gourmet of course, as it is a “guy” boat having just John the owner on board and his friend who was to help him get to their first stop, Hawaii.
Did I mention beer..??? probably not…
We carried on, motoring thru the canal, at about 6 – 7 knots, passing the prison which hosts Manuel Noriega News Article on Noriega being released from Jail
Snacks onboard was fried chicken. Or Pizza.
You might be noticing a pattern.
Reaching Pedro Miguel Locks was like a turning point. For one, you can SEE the Pacific Ocean, and you realize you are almost there. As well, there seems to be a lot more boat traffic.
Thru the Pedro Miguel Locks and the Miraflores locks, we were assigned to hook up to a charter cruise passanger boat. We were so relieved, for one, we don’t have to worry about lines up to the canal walls, and second,… THEY HAD BEER!
Stewart was happy again, and he promptly purchased some from the concession. Life WOULD go on.
We were followed thru the Miraflores locks by a car carrier who made us seem almost miniscule in comparison to their enormity. Watching them bear down on you into the small space of the locks is quite a sight.
When the doors open at Miraflores locks for the final time, a cheer was given all around as the Pacific water surrounded us. We celebrated with our purchased beer!
We motored over to the Balboa Yacht Club, where ¾ Time would stay for a few days before heading towards Mexico and Hawaii on their circumnavigation.
Our Pilot got off just before we moored down at the club and we headed up to the Club for a Beer!
Our Taxi Rogelio was there waiting for us shortly after our arrival, and we finished our beer and headed off with him again, back to our “homes” at Shelter Bay, but not without a stop at the Tienda….. for…
you guessed it…. beer….