The Panama Canal.
Our transit from the Atlantic to the Pacific
Our passage through the Panama Canal started as planned on December 18th, although it has to be said that we were already busy beforehand to complete all preparations for the transit. This includes that we needed additional lines and fenders, as well as sufficient provisions for our crew. For the canal transit, it is mandatory that in addition to the helmsman there must be at least 4 linehandlers and a pilot or transit advisor on board. For MAYA this is an unusually large number of people on board. Daniel (Tobias Cousin) has flown in from Germany to join the canal transit. Additionally, Anita and Jenna were on board to help as linehandlers during the passage. On 18.12. even 2 transit advisors were on board because one of them was still in training. On 19.12. another pilot came on board and guided us through the canal. Again many thanks to all of you! Not only did everything go very smooth, but it was also lots of fun!
On 18.12. we started in the afternoon. We should arrive at the anchorage “F” The Flats until 5 pm to wait for the pilot. Our friends from SY Yum Yum, who want to go through the canal on the same day, are already scheduled 2 hours ahead of us. So we wait together with the DeNovo and the Midnight Breeze, who should go through the locks along with us, in the Flats for the boat with the pilots/transit advisors.
Punctually at 6 pm, the pilot boat arrives and we also start immediately. Around 6.10 pm we get the anchor up and head for the Gatun Lock. Of course, everybody is a little bit excited and while we go to the lock a relatively heavy rain shower comes down on us. The rainy season in Panama is not quite over yet. Shortly before we reach the lock we tie-up with the boats DeNovo and Midnight Breeze. The DeNovo (a Steven 47) is the biggest of the 3 boats and therefore in the middle. We moor on the starboard side of it, on the port side is the Midnight Breeze. We have to operate the lines on the starboard side in the lock. To do this, they throw lines (called messenger) onto our boat with so-called “monkey fists”. Our lines are attached to these and then pulled upwards. We go through the “old locks”. These were already built-in 1915 and are still in use. Here ships of the Panamax class can go in. These are ships with a maximum length of 294.3m, a beam of 32.3m and a draught of up to 12m. Since 2016 there are also new locks, which allow even larger ship sizes. The largest permitted ship dimensions are now 366m length, 49m width and 15.2m draught (Neopanamax class). However, these locks usually are not for small boats like yachts (which are called Handliner in the canal slang, because the lines are handled by hand and not with the locomotives).
The Gatun Lock (at the canal entrance) consists of 3 chambers which are passed through one after the other. At the moment the lock is operated in a water-saving mode, and therefore it takes a little longer. During the rainy season, there were already in the 2nd season too few rainfalls to bring the Gatun Lake to the desired level.
In the lock, we were together with the Doric Javelin a bulk carrier with 190 meters length. Everything went without problems. But it is still a strange feeling when the lock gate closes and thus a chapter (the Atlantic) of our journey is completed. Only at about 11.00 pm, we reach the overnight stay place in Gatun Lake. We moored alongside the Yum Yum, which is already moored to a buoy. There is a lot to talk about and for many crew members, it will be a very short night.
The next morning shortly before 7.30 am the pilot boat is already back and brings the 4 pilots/transit advisors for all the boats. It starts immediately and we motor through the Gatun Lake (sailing is not allowed and would hardly have been possible with so little wind). At 11:25 am we reach Gamboa, which is the end of Lake Gatun and the beginning of the actual Panama Canal. But here we had to wait because there are still some ships coming towards us and we are not allowed to meet some of them in the canal, because there are restrictions (e.g. because they have particularly dangerous cargo). However, these ships are about 2 hours late today because of fog and therefore they could not be smuggled in on time. Therefore we moored alongside the DeNovo, which was already moored to a buoy, for a while. Only at 1.15 pm, we leave Gamboa. Thus we could only go downhill at 3.50 pm in the Pedro Miguel lock. In this lock, we tied-up with DeNovo. (Midnight Breeze was in the locks with Yum Yum a bit earlier that day). At the entrance of the canal, there is only one lock with 3 chambers, in the end, there are 2 locks with one or two chambers. The locks downwards we are going through together with the vessel Passero. It is a 183m long car carrier with home port Rostock.
Only at 4.40 pm, we enter the Miraflores Lock and at 5.45 pm the last lock gate of the Panama Canal opens! YEAH!!! Ahead of us lies the PACIFIC!!!! Waahooo!! A whole new ocean is ahead of us. A much bigger ocean with many islands to discover ????⚓?⛵?
We’ll keep going for a while until the pilot was picked up. Then we head for Las Brisas, an anchorage just outside Panama City. At 8 pm we are finally anchored and could celebrate the successful canal transit!
- We didn’t use an agent and think it is complete nonsense (and expensive) to hire an agent. In addition, you sometimes get better information if you speak directly to the canal authority.
- Here are two helpful websites for the canal transit preparation: http://madaboutpanama.com and http://www.panlinehandler.com