|Entering Gatun Lock|
Another uneventful, Panama Canal transit under our belts and we've cleared another hurdle in our quest to get back home! Getting back into the Pacific Ocean felt a little like coming home. The Atlantic was kind to us, but the Pacific is home. We don't expect to stick around Panama City long, just enough time enough to provision and get ready for several months, mainly at sea.
I'm getting ahead of myself. We've never traveled in the canal from North to South before (the canal actually moves traffic north to south rather than east to west like many people think), so there were a few things different. For one, we needed to plan to stay in the lake overnight with our extra crew of two passengers. We picked our pilot up on the Flats, directly outside of the Atlantic city of Colon, and headed to Gatun Lock, the first of the three locks at about 5pm. The three Locks are located one right after the other and once we established our lock configuration we repeated it throughout the three locks. A large freighter entered the locks ahead of us. When they were securely tied in place two smaller sailboats tied up to us and Mike motored our small fleet into the locks under Pelagic's power. Once tied together the other sailboats had to do all the work in line handling. The Canal requires that all boats have four separate line handlers and 4 sets of 100 foot line, although boats aren't always required to use their line handlers. The Canal workers throw a monkey fists over to the sailboat at four points, the sailboat ties their lines to the monkey fist, the lines get pulled back over an enormous cleat at the top of the lock and then passed back down to the sailboat. Since we were at sea level and needed to be raised up the level of the lake, about 75 feet, the line handlers took in line to keep tension on the lines and keep our position in the middle of the lock while the water was flooding in. It isn't a hard job, but if line handlers are not paying attention the swirling water can cause the boat to get pushed up against the lock walls. Fortunately everyone was prepared and it was uneventful. In fact, on our port side we were rafted to a boat we didn't know, but on our starboard side we were rafted to a Swedish boat with two young Swedes on board and we had spent a little time with them prior to our transit. In addition they had asked three teenage girls off a boat our boys had been friendly with to be their line handlers. While Mike kept us in the center of the locks, the rest of us were able to relax and hang out with the neighboring boats. Mike may not agree, but for the rest of us it was like a party in the locks. After about an hour in the three locks, we motored to a large mooring ball about a mile away, in Gatun Lake, and we continued our small party with the Swedish boat. Guitars were brought out, beers were shared (amongst the adults) and good company was enjoyed by all.
The following day our pilot was the first to arrive at the mooring and we took off to cover the 35 miles across the lake solo. Once across the lake we entered the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks, lowering us down 75 feet to the Pacific. This time we tied up next to a large ferry and once secured to the ferry we were able to relax and enjoy the ride down. In total we traveled about 50 miles across the isthmus, we were in the canal for less than 24 hours, saving us about 8000 sea miles and at least 4 months of sailing down South America and around Cape Horn. Well worth the $1000 it cost us to cross!
|In the locks|
Our line handlers were fun to have aboard and the kids enjoyed some different company. One thing we love about cruising is the exposure to other cultures via fellow cruisers. This time we were able to learn a little about Hungary and Russia. Our new friends wanted the experience of crossing the Panama Canal, and we needed the help, so it was a mutually beneficial arrangement. I told them I was happy to cook for everyone and I only asked a local recipe in exchange. Looking forward to some Hungarian Goulash and some Russian soup in the not too distant future.
|Leaving a lock|
|Tied up the ferry, waiting on instructions to cast off.|
|Zander and Alexei|
|This is how Ana spent much of the crossing|