<%@ Language=JavaScript %> Panama Canal II



'Immer Weiter' enters Miraflores Locks at 7 in the morning. We tie up 'Center Chamber' only some 20 meters behind our lock partner "Fanoula", a huge freighter who fills the whole width of the chamber.


Cruising Central America

The story on how I sailed on a small vessel around Central America.
Go to the start.

Just as we pull the mooring lines tight, the doors close behind us and sweet water starts gushing in from underneath, putting our small craft into lingering motions. Slowly the walls become less and less high: we are rising and eventually come up level to the men who were watching our lines.

Pedro Miguel Locks: The third locks on the Pacific side, this time tied up "Along a tug"

Now comes the tricky part: The freighter in front of us has to move to the next lock. To assist the 8 locomotives he gives a few turns with his prop. That barely gives him a start. For us, though, is a completely different story: Only 20 meters away from us a propeller starts spinning that is as big as our whole boat! The water in front of us is steered up. We are being pushed backwards and the lines stretch. It feels like fighting against a mega current as the freighter slowly moves ahead.

Once he is out of the chamber, our mooring lines are dropped, hauled back in, and four men on shore escort us with their lead lines to the next lock where the same procedure starts over. We go 'Center Chamber' again and already feel like wise experts. The maneuver runs seamlessly and we exit Miraflores Lake to motor the short distance to the third locks, called Pedro Miguel Locks. They lift us to the final height of 85 feet.

Waiting for entry into Gatun locks on the Atlantic side

The canal consists of two different environments: Gaillard Cut is the first narrow portion with one-way traffic. We have to cross the isthmus that connects North and South America which originally was rising up to 622 feet (200 m). Even though the canal is open 24 hours with a maximum capacity of 43 vessels, the morning hours are reserved for a set of big ships going East. They will pass the cut and pass the set of big vessels coming from the other side around mid-day in Gatun Lake. This much wider portion of the canal allows for easy two-way traffic.

Whereas we motor along at 5 to 6 knots, the freighters speed up to 15 knots and reach the other end well ahead of us. Our lock partner is soon out of sight and the relaxing part of the journey begins. While Mike is steering, I serve ham-and-cheese sandwiches to the crew, listening to the stories 'The Pastor' ("He goes to church, that's why...") has to tell. He is a black Panamanian who went to school in the US and speaks like a Black-American. Then it's time in his stressy schedule to go to sleep - piloting is left up to the trainee, who successfully guides us through the 'Banana Channel', reserved for small vessels, and gets us to the locks in time for a one-day passage.

Tied up "Along a tug" in Gatun Locks with

We enter Gatun Locks at 2:30 in the afternoon. Had we been a bit later, we would have to anchor in Gatun Lake and pass the locks the next day instead of today. This time we are in front of our lock partner. While we tie up in 'Center Chamber' again, the freighter closes in on us and is locked into place by the eight locomotives. As we look up his bow we can see his huge anchors hanging almost right above us.

Going down is easier: The water just slips out underneath and we sink slowly down towards the Atlantic. The only challenge comes after passing the third lock: Once the doors open to the Atlantic, sweet water is mixed with salt water creating immense currents that can push a small boat to the sides. Mike gives full throttle and we steam, slightly lingering, towards the new ocean.

It is late afternoon when we approach the Panama Yacht Club (N09.20, W079.54)) at the end of the canal zone. The pilot boat comes along side and picks up the pilots while we progress at full speed. A little balancing act, two jumps, and they are gone. We tie up at the Yacht Club and leave Mike and his ship to return to Balboa by bus.

Leaving Gatun Locks into the Atlantic. Our lock partner just started his engine and will pass us a few minutes later.

What we see of Colon only emphasizes what we had heard about it: A weird and dangerous place. Steve and I decide not to stay here after transiting 'Solitaire'.

Two days later, it is 'Solitaire's' turn. After a delay of two hours (and we had gotten up extra early) the one-day transit begins. We go 'Along a tug' in all six locks and manage to reach the Yacht Club at 7 at night. Steve is relieved to have his boat safely in the Atlantic and throws a round of beer. Three pitchers later, we are ready for bed and my first night as crew on 'Solitaire' begins.

A new ship

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2014 by Joh. Hennekeuser - Last update: 09-Nov-2014