Panama Canal Transit – Ship\’s Blog and Photo Gallery…..

This Ship’s Blog will be a little different. We’ll let the photos and captions tell the story…… After a new set of batteries and working out the final teething issues (we hope) – We’ll be off to the Las Perlas Islands of Panama on the 22nd of March. Shortly thereafter, off to the mysterious island of Malpelo and then the Galapagos!

Thanks to all of you who “live blogged” along with us and sent us screen captures (several of which are in this gallery).

Enjoy and KIT (keep in touch)!

Scott and Nikki

Pacific Puddle Jump – Class of 2016 from Shelter Bay, Colon – Panama. These are the owners and crews of vessels who would soon transit the canal for their journey’s across the Pacific. There was also a smaller group who were already through the canal who would have a party the next day. Other similar groups would be leaving from Mexico and California.
Nikki ready to go from the Caribbean to the Pacific
Mike and Beth Lonnes joined us and here Nikki an Beth are ready to go
Our first “Advisor” Dalton and Mike as we ready to enter Gatun Locks for our trip from the Caribbean to Gatun Lake
The last northbound vessel of the day is on the left and our “ship mate’ – Chembulk Minneapolis ready to enter the first lock at Gatun.
s/v “Free Wheel” a 55 foot monohull would be our “raft tie” to starboard with Magnus at the helm.
s/v “Kristiane” from Australia with Paddy at the helm would be our “raft tie” to port.
Making the raft before we entered the first lock. Beach House would be in control as we were the “biggest” boat, though not the longest. I would be responsible for helm and propulsion throughout the transit of each lock.
I can still here Dalton saying, “Follow that Ship”. Note the car bridge is still down as an ambulance suddenly had priority over us. It was lifted to allow us to enter within 5 minutes.
Many of the locks were double doors. This one was a single, closing behind us at the first step up. Each step up was 27 feet and there would be three levels into Gatun Lake.
Doors closing – our first lock and the excitement was palpable.
The “unlock” is supposed to be potentially the most difficult as we are not only getting a mix of salt and fresh water, but Chembulk Minneapolis is using her engine to move through each confined lock. Think Warring Blender!
It was getting dark as we started, but completely dark as we finished.
We spent the night in Gatun Lake. Chembulk Minneapolis continued on her transit which would take her a total of about 8 hours. For us, a two day affair as we cannot keep up with the big ships on the 40 mile transit to the next set of locks at Pedro Miguel. The sunrise was spectacular. Here we have “Free Wheel” and “Kristiane’ tied together with a rubberized mooring buoy between them.
The next day, we were joined by our new advisor, Roy. He and professional line handler Eric were great.
The big ships move fast in Gatun Lake for the 40 miles transit from Pedro Miguel to the Gatun Locks.
We stopped to wait for our friends and our new ship mate who was 12 miles behind us. This is Gamboa and you can see an ungainly car carrying ship on the left with “Titan” on the right. The crane, Titan, was built by the Germans in WW2 and was then the largest in the world. They used it for making U Boats! Panama bought it in the late 1960’s and use if for canal maintenance right up through the present time. They bought if from the German government for 1 dollar!
Club Fed – Panamanian Style. This is where the deposed dictator, Manuel Noriega is spending his last days. Right on the Panama Canal. It’s a former U.S. Military prison.
After navigating the very narrow “Galliard (aka: Culebra) Cut”, we finally came to the Centennial Bridge. This opened in 2000 and was a huge traffic buster for the Panamanians. The cut is so narrow that ships cannot pass each other for the better part of 8 miles. As such, the canal traffic more or less moves one direction or the other about half the time each day.
The Brain Trust: Getting ready to enter the locks at Pedro Miguel. These locks have two steps down and are about 1 mile before the final step down into the Pacific at Miraflores.
Here you can see how it’s done. The small boats only go through in the first trip of the day and usually 4 or less at a time. The guys on the sides, throw monkeys fists at the end of small lines (for weight) and our guys tie off to then with a big loop. They pull them back and just set them on the big bollards (cleats). The crews on the boats adjust the lines, not the guys on the sides.
Cowgirl on a boat! Nikki relaxes (rare on this transit) while the guys handle the lines. Nikki was working non stop most of the time.
Pedro Miguel Locks. We got here so far ahead of our “ship” that we had time to sit in the canal lock for over an hour by ourselves.
A unique view of Pedro Miguel Locks.
Mike and I were brainstorming that the view from “on high” would look quite cool.
So, in the bosun’s chair I went and Mike hauled me to the top of the mast. Roy cringed a bit….:-)
And the view from the top was well worth the ride! “Kristiane” on the left, “Beach House” in the middle and “Free Wheel” on the right
Here from the top of the mast, you can see the double door system on each side of the control room.
That’s me at the top
I’m so trendy – my first “selfie”. I might add, a fairly unique one.
Cap Ines – a Panamax Vessel. This ship is a container ship and is the absolute maximum size of the current canal. 105 feet wide and 880 feet (more or less long). She’s a moving city.
Our ship, “Berkay N”, finally arrived! She sure looks small next to Cap Ines. Note the “Mules” (Electric trains) and cables tied off to the ship. The Mules are only used to center a vessel and keep them off the walls. They are locked to their tracks and manned. They can hear the Pilots, but cannot speak back to avoid confusion. They communicate with lights and bells only back to the Pilot abroad the vessel. In case you want a high paying job btw, the Pilots can make up to $400,000 USD/per year! They are in negotiations for up to $500,000! Nice job, if you can get it.
Down we go at Pedro Miguel. This lock was only two steps down and is about one mile from here to the final locks on the Pacific side at Pedro Miguel. Note the cutouts in the wall on the center left. These are outdated cleats originally built when the canal was new. They are no longer used.
Nikki waiting for the doors to open.
Note the double doors. Originally, these were powered by small electric motors but now are powered by hydraulic rams which can be seen outboard up high on each door. The doors are actually held closed by the water pressure.
The doors fold back flush to the walls so the Panamax vessels don’t rip them off the walls! The canals are essentially gravity fed and yes, some freshwater from the lake is lost on every opening. However, the lake is constantly overflowing into the ocean over a spillway and a dam, so this water would be lost anyway. Currently however, there is a drought and the spillways are turned off. The spillways were built at an engineered level to support the lakes constant depth to idealize the locks usage.
“Cap (Cape) Ines” is a true moving city with up to 2500 containers. Each container is charged at about 80.00 each. As such, it cost Cap Ines about $200,000.00 USD for this transit. The canal nets about 5 million USD/day. A cruise ship at 140.00/passenger could cost up to $500,000.00 per transit!
“Cap (Cape) Ines” is a true moving city with up to 2500 containers. Each container is charged at about 80.00 each. As such, it cost Cap Ines about $200,000.00 USD for this transit. The canal nets about 5 million USD/day. A cruise ship at 140.00/passenger could cost up to $500,000.00 per transit!
A reverse view from the Miraflores Camera. Many of you wonderful friends and family sent us screen shots. Thank you all!. Here you see us in the same place as the previous photo with Cap Ines on our left – photo right. “Bekay N” trailing in the distance.
Entering Miraflores from the Web Cam ahead of “Berkay N”.
Nice and tight shot of the three of us rafted. For our line handler it had been an easy trip. The next lock would change that! (3 steps to the Pacific and the middle one is a doozy).
Miraflores Visitors center. You can see all the folks watching the ships (and sailboats) come and go. The Web Cam is on the pole in the upper right off the building. Our advisor called ahead to make sure the camera was aimed at us – cool!
MULES! in waiting. We were in just ahead of our Panamax friend – Cap Ines. He had 8 mules connected and you wouldn’t want to put anything like a part of your body between Cap Ines and the sides of the canal. It’s that tight!
“Cap Ines” is YUUGE (as it is now popularly written). Look at the perspective of this vessel next to the guys on the dock.
We had some time while waiting for “Berkay N” so we hammed a bit for the WebCam while waiting.
Mike and Beth. Beth took more photos than I did and Mike ran the GoPro which made a cool time lapse video of the entire trip. I hope to post it soon!!!!
Chill time before the last two locks.
As we entered the second step of three, Advisor Roy said that due to the salt/fresh water mix in this part of the canal, we could expect a strong current from astern. This causes loss of steerageway and the micro excitement began! At first, I could handle it by literally backing the raft up. Paddy remained calm to port. (I wouldn’t have been!). Then a line handler not to be named, failed to tighten a stern line and we almost had a fiberglass sandwich with “Kristiane” threatening to be scraped off the wall. Believe me, you don’t want to touch that wall while moving in a piece of plastic. Our line handler Eric, quickly put a big fender between Kristiana and the wall averting disaster. And we were only 1000 feet from the end of the trip!
Webcam from outside the locks caught us entering the Pacific. The first time Beach House has been here in four years.
Our view: This is the last step down and much calmer than the one before it. Beach House returns to the Pacific Ocean. This lock is the highest at 50 feet. The reason is that there can be 28 foot tides on the Pacific side. These are the biggest tides we’ve seen anywhere in the world. In Australia, we had 18 foot tides in Mackay and Darwin.
Passing the “Bridge of the America’s” into Balboa with Panama City off to our left. The traffic flows 24/7/365 at the Panama Canal.
This dredge is non stop. It continuously makes sure that minimum depth is assured for the big ships. Free Wheel heads toward the anchorage.
Beth documented the trip extremely well.
Goodbye Roy!
The pilot boats themselves are almost as big as we are. Here Roy gets to go home every night and await the next small boats. He told us a story that he actually went on a French 18 footer once. They ran out of gas in Lake Gatun as the “skipper” was told he only needed 5 gallons for the 55 mile trip!…
Our agent, whose name was also Roy, came to collect our rented lines and fenders as well as Eric who he hires out as a line handler. Eric and Roy (our agent) were great and we’d use them again in a minute.
Frank Gehry designed this “Bio Diversity” Museum that is on the Amador corridor adjacent to the canal in Balboa. The hill you see is called “Ancon” and is the highest point in Panama City. Great view and named for the first official vessel to transit the canal i 1914.
A celebratory bottle of Verve Cliquot was shared for our successful transit and return to the Pacific Ocean.
Sunrise at the anchorage at La Playita. This anchorage is not really as nice as the photo. The water is dirty,, the tides are extreme and the constant ship traffic causes more than a few crash and bangs. The boat in the photo is “Alcyane”, a fellow California Yacht Club member from Marina del Rey.