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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Ashley & Elan