Full Panama Canal Update

We found a real internet connection! So here is the full scoop on the Panama Canal.

The transit process started with several days worth of errands: scheduling, inspection, paying fees, hiring line handlers, renting ropes, scrounging up 10 used tires for fenders and stocking up on food, water and boat parts. We also checked out the Miraflores Locks Museum to get an idea of the process before attempting it on our boat. Once we were set, we were scheduled for transit almost immediately.

View of the Miraflores locks from the Museum

Tanker going through Miraflores Locks.

Panama City skyline


Lightning from the Balboa Yacht Club mooring field where we spent our last night in Panama City.

Panamax going under the Bridge of the Americas… from here it didn’t look like it would fit.

Deja and Jake

We were a little nervous going into our first set of locks. We shared the locks with a big container ship and it’s assisting tug boat. Both the ship and the tug must leave their propellers spinning while in the locks, so navigating through the tight space amongst their prop wash was tricky. We were side-tied to the tug, which was tied to the side wall. Its a very streamlined process, each lock only taking 8-10 minutes to fill/empty. I completely missed the lock doors closing on the first set because it happened while we were still tying off.

In the locks with the doors closed behind us!

Under the Bridge of the Americas!

Raising up towards the level of the lake.

Our lock-mate.

Side-tied to a tug.

Pulling in to the next set of locks.

Our defensive line.


One of the big lock doors.

Turbulence from Ocean Crystal’s prop.

Excited to be here? I think so!

Our first advisor, Carlos, was great.

They literally moved mountains to build the canal. This is in the cut moving towards the lake.

Our advisor’s other job, was as a crane operator for this dredge in the canal.

Lake Gatun traffic

Lake Gatun

Lake Gatun has lots of little islands, the remnants of hills and mountains that lived there long before the lake did.

Although many sail boats transit all three sets of locks (6 levels in total) in one day, we were scheduled for two, spending the night in Lake Gatun. We didn’t know this until we were already underway, which was a little awkward considering that our line handler, a local, had to spend the night with us on the boat. The official Canal advisor, who rides with us and oversees the process, is the only one allowed to get on or off the boat during transit. Fortunately, our line handler, Rey, was a nice guy and it provided a good opportunity for practicing our Spanish. The lake is actually quite beautiful: green and jungly. Elan saw a crocodile, and our advisor saw a toucan, though the rest of us missed it. As far as we know, this is the first time our boat has ever been in freshwater, 125 feet above sea level, none the less!

In the Banana Cut, a short cut in the Lake.

The Boys!

Our crew, Deja and Jake.

The Girls standing on our gigantic mooring bouy, where we spent the night in Lake Gatun.

What can I say about this one…?

A dip in the lake… aka swimming with the crocs.

The next morning we finished the last three locks, lowering us back down to sea level. We had one scary moment when our advisor asked us to start pulling through the lock doors before they were all the way open. The door started to suck us towards the wall as it opened, but Elan managed to correct the swing with just a gentle scuff of the dinghy against the wall. No harm done, but it made us a little wary of the advisors advice from then on, it was clear he had never captained a slow, full keel boat like ours.

Lowering back down to sea level

We tied cushions over all of our solar panels because in some cases lines have to be thrown from the high upper walls down to the boat, which sometimes damages fragile parts.

Canal de Panama!

Our second lock-mate, up close and personal!


Opening up…

The Hoeg containership was carrying 4000+ cars.

You can actually see the line where the water changes color as we pulled out of the last lock.

So just like that, we are in the Caribbean!! We spent one night at a Marina to sort our our tires and lines, and drop off our line handler.

Next we blasted off to the San Blas Islands. We thought it would be fun to show Deja and Jake what our overnight runs were like, so we left the marina just before sunset on the 90 mile run. Unfortunately, the wave direction was hitting us just wrong the entire night, making for a stomach churning ride. For the first time in my entire life, I was seasick. Deja, Jake and I all took turns bowing over the rail most of the night, as the rain came down, the lightning flashed and we navigated blind since our radar was being fickle. So much for showing them how fun overnight runs are!

We spent the next five days playing in the San Blas before Deja and Jake took off. Thats it for now, we’ll give you the full scoop on San Blas next time.

Take care,

Ashley & Elan




Through the Panama Canal and on to the Caribbean!!

Hello everyone!

Panama Canal

We safely made it through the Panama Canal and 90 miles northeast to the beautiful San Blas Islands. The canal transit was a big milestone for us, and will be a memory we recall for years to come. Had I really understood how remote the San Blas Islands were, I would have been sure to update the blog before leaving the luxury of wifi behind, but this mini email update will have to do for now. We have taken a million photos but we’ll have to upload them with the full story the next time we have a real internet connection.

The San Blas / Kuna Yala Islands

These 360+ islands are tiny sand and palm covered islands with crystal clear water and lots of reefs to keep navigation interesting. The Kuna Yala Indians row out to us in their traditional duggout canoes to sell us lobster, conch, fruit, beaded jewelry, and embroidered handicrafts, which is great because there isn’t a grocery store for 50+ miles in any direction. We are definitely putting a dent in our dried and canned food selection and have had to rig up a rain catcher to supply ourselves with drinking water. What we wouldn’t give for a block of cheese and some fresh veggies!!

Homeward Bound

We are planning a trip home to Washington for a string of weddings in August and September. Although we love our cruising life, we are SO excited to take a break to see our much-missed families and catch up with friends.

Take care and please keep in touch (our cellular email connection sporadically works out here) Ashley & Elan