Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Hi From the Pacific

Greetings from the Pacific side of Panama!  We made it through the Canal - what an experience!
Our tracker shows us moving from the Atlantic to the Pacific!


It started on Monday, when our agent (who had arranged the transit on our behalf), came to deliver the lines and fenders, said "I've got good news, and I've got bad news..."  Uh, Oh...didn't really want any bad news...  He said, "The good news is, your transit has been moved up;  the bad news is, you have to leave in 20 minutes".  Whoa!  We were ready, but it was still a mad scramble to get going and a very quick exit from Shelter Bay Marina!

The two youngest crew members surveying the ships on the horizon and contemplating the task ahead

Our Fenders

Our lines

We headed out to the Flats Anchorage to pick up our advisor.  He turned out to be a fantastic guy. He is a tug boat captain and very knowledgeable, not only of the working of the locks and canal, but also a mariner, which was a huge help.  Sometimes the advisors are administrative people (as we experienced on day 2), and don't always understand how boats work.  But Christoph was awesome, and I think a huge part of making the first transit through the Gatun Locks relatively stress free.

The Pilot boat approaches and drops off our advisor

We've learned that most things here are of the "hurry up and wait" mentality, and that was precisely what happened.  Christoph pointed to a ship in the distance and told us that was the ship we were going to transit with.  Then he received a radio call, and a cell phone call.  Apparently the ship was carrying some sort of chemicals, and we were not allowed to go through the locks with it.  So we had a 2 hour wait.  We decided to use the time to cook an early dinner and we just hung around...waiting.


Then finally it was time.  "Our" new ship, "Seaboard America" came sailing past, and we fell into step behind it.  Once it was in the lock, we took up position behind it.  On the way up, the sailing vessel goes behind the ship, on the way down, the sailing vessel goes in front.  Then the line handlers on the lock walls threw a heaving line and we tied our big lines to them.  Then they walk the boat forward and pull our big lines up and tie them onto huge cleats on the side of the lock wall.  Then, when the water starts filling the lock, the line handlers on the boat (Garrick, Adrian, Gudrun and our Panamanian helper Alan), have to keep the lines tight (in this case pulling them in), to keep the boat steady and in the middle of the lock.  It took 6 minutes for the lock to fill up.  It was amazing.  The water churned like a boiling kettle and in no time, we were at the top of the first lock!

Approaching the locks behind Seaboard America.
You can see a ship coming out of locks on the right, we went in on the left


In the lock with our advisor

The process was repeated 2 more times.  Each time when we reached the top, the Canal line handlers would send our big lines back, and walk along the wall with their heaving lines attached and walk us over to the next lock, and tie us up to the next set of cleats.  We entered the first lock around 7:30pm and exited into Gatun lake at around 9:30pm.  By 10:00pm we were at anchor!

One of the locks before it was filled with water.  You can see the line handlers at the top of the lock wall and the lines going to the boat

Here is a link to a quick video of us in one of the locks.  You can see how the water churns as the chamber fills up:

Cool Runnings in Gatum Locks chamber-Panama Canal

It was pitch black when we anchored, so it was a treat to wake up in the morning and view our surroundings.  Mist rose out of the jungle as we sat on deck with our morning cup of coffee.

Captain Dave enjoying his morning cuppa. Construction of the new locks can be seen in the background.

Adrian and Garrick on deck in the morning discussing the previous night's transit

Gatun Lake in the morning


It was another "hurry up and wait" situation.  Alan, our Panamanian line handler had said that the advisor would come around 7:00am, so we were up at 6:30am.  By 8:00am, no-one had come.  Garrick rustled up a wonderful breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatoes and corned beef...just what we needed to get us through the day!  We then finally got word that the advisor would be on board at 10:00am.  To his credit, he did come a little earlier than that, and then we were able to begin our journey across the lake, and toward the Pedro Miguel lock and the Miraflores locks thereafter.

Approaching Culebra Cut


It was a beautiful but hot journey across the lake, and we saw a crocodile, birds, and ships. It took a couple of hours and soon we were at the Pedro Miguel lock, the first one to take us a step down!  This time round we had to go against the wall, which was not what we had wanted, because you run the risk of damaging your boat against the rough lock wall.  But you can't argue with the Canal officials, and we made use of the big fenders we had hired, and hoped for the best.  It all turned out OK, but it was somewhat stressful!

In Pedro Miguel Lock inspecting the wall we had to go up against.  On the right is our advisor for the day
Once through the Pedro Miguel lock, we motored on toward the last 2 locks, the Miraflores locks.  The pictures below show us approching the locks.  Our deepest thanks to our friend Charles Fair, who took these stills from the webcam and sent them to us.

Approaching Miraflores Lock.  We look so tiny amongst the huge cargo ships!

Cool Runnings approaching Miraflores Lock, with our chamber partner, the Overseas Pearlmar behind us
We transited the last 2 locks in the same way we transited the Gatun Locks, in what they call "Center Chamber", with line handlers walking us from one lock to another and the line handlers on the boat controlling the lines, this time letting them out as we went down.

For me the scariest part of this last transit was the HUGE ship, the "Overseas Pearlmar" that came in the lock behind us!  It seemed like it was never going to stop, and just kept coming closer and closer and closer.  It was so close to our stern, we felt we could have touched it!  It was maybe a boat length from us (40ft)!!  I NEVER want to be that close to a ship again...EVER!!!

Overseas Pearlmar just barely fit into the lock

It just got closer and closer...

The Overseas Pearlmar towering above Cool Runnings and her crew

Ben and Gaby in the last lock before the water drained out.
The Pacific beckons behind them
 And then we were done!  Around 5:30pm local time the last of the lock gates opened, and finally we were in the Pacific Ocean!

The lock gates open...and we were in the Pacific!


Our view from our anchorage:  Panama from the Pacific side

Here is another short video of the end of our journey through the locks:

Cool Runnings entering the Pacific Ocean

two additional videos:
Ben flying the drone for 1st time in Shelter Bay Marina:
Ben flying drone

and
Last night in Panama City....in old City looking towards new City
Last night out in Panama City Old town

6 comments:

  1. Cool stories - great adventure !! You will have seen some of the Clipper yacht fleet going through Panama in the opposite direction - if all goes according to plan, we may see you, and them, next in Cape Town in late 2017 !! Fair winds and calm seas till then - all the best on your next legs across the Pacific. MikeD.

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  2. Love reading all your adventure stories & whenever I'm at the grandkids, (who all have wi-fi,we don't) we catch up on all your news together. Today Dave, Uncle Eric & I went down to Toti to meet up with Eric Whitford & family from Benoni,they were here because their son ran the comrades,so there was much 'when we' talk & I just listened as they caught up. Your folks will remember them well.I look forward to your next blog. Safe travels & good wishes from all of us in Durbs.xx

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  3. Love reading all your adventure stories & whenever I'm at the grandkids, (who all have wi-fi,we don't) we catch up on all your news together. Today Dave, Uncle Eric & I went down to Toti to meet up with Eric Whitford & family from Benoni,they were here because their son ran the comrades,so there was much 'when we' talk & I just listened as they caught up. Your folks will remember them well.I look forward to your next blog. Safe travels & good wishes from all of us in Durbs.xx

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  4. Love reading all your adventure stories & whenever I'm at the grandkids, (who all have wi-fi,we don't) we catch up on all your news together. Today Dave, Uncle Eric & I went down to Toti to meet up with Eric Whitford & family from Benoni,they were here because their son ran the comrades,so there was much 'when we' talk & I just listened as they caught up. Your folks will remember them well.I look forward to your next blog. Safe travels & good wishes from all of us in Durbs.xx

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  5. Love reading about all your adventures & when we're at the grandkids we catch up on the latest episode. (They all have wifi & we don't).
    Today Dave,Uncle Eric & I traveled down to Toti to meet up with Eric & Bernice Whitford who were in Durban because their son Glen ran the comrades. There was a lot of "When we" talk & I just sat listening to the blasts from their past! Your Mom & Dad will remember them well.It was good for them to catch up.
    Safe travels as you navigate the great Pacific Ocean & good wishes to you all from all of us here in Durbs. xxx

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  6. Well done to all of you. Wishing you well through the Pacific. Hi to Adrian. Tony Juliet & Clyde

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