We have been in Shelter Bay Marina for 10 days now and are starting to go stir crazy. The marina is very isolated; that means great security but pretty boring for us. There is a bus that takes cruisers to the local shopping center that can take up to an hour to get there (depends on how lucky one is when the bus arrives at the canal crossing). It is a $30 cab ride back if you miss the return bus. We decided a nice diversion would be to help a fellow cruiser to transit the Panama Canal. Each vessel that transits the canal requires the captain, four people to handle the lines, and a pilot (hired from the canal authority). It helps to be familiar with boats to be a line handler but agility and a bit of strength is all it takes… We volunteered to help Derek on Adagio II, an Australian flagged Jeanneau 42. He provided meals and drinks during the transit and taxi fare from Panama City back to Shelter Bay. It was a great experience for us!
We boarded Adagio at 11 am on Sunday May 13 and left the marina for the Flats anchorage area just outside the entrance to the Gatun Locks. We were anchored by 11:30 and waited until 1:20 before the pilot arrived. We pulled anchor immediately and started toward the Gatun Locks. They are a series of 3 locks, 108 feet wide by 1000 feet long, raising the boats about 30 feet each. We were behind a large ship, Almasi, in this series of locks. We rafted up to a catamaran for this transit and they handled 3 out of the 4 lines. So we had a relatively easy 3 hours that it took to go through the Gatun Locks.
Once through, we untied from the cat and it continued through the rest of the canal while we tied up to a mooring ball for the night. This was like no other mooring that any of us has tied up to and it took the 3 men a while to decide the best way to tie on. The pilot left us here and we had a pleasant night on Lake Gatun.
The next morning our new pilot arrived at 6:30 and we were off toward the Pedro Miguel Lock. We had to wait at the start of the Gaillard Cut where the Chagres River joins the canal. We tied up to another mooring while we waited for the ship that we were going through the next 3 locks to arrive. At the Pedro Miguel Lock we rafted up to a tug boat already tied on the side of the lock. It was at the front of the lock and we were somewhat intimidated watching the Auriga Leader come in the lock behind us. It was a quick lowering by 30 feet before heading to the Miraflores Locks. Miraflores has two locks and we were by ourselves tied in the middle of the locks. Again the Auriga Leader came in behind us. This was the most work for us line handlers. The canal staff on the sides throw a messenger line to each handler that we tied to our big lines. These lines get put on bollards on the edge of the lock. Each of us then had to control our line so that the boat remained centered in the lock as water is removed from the lock.
Once out of the Miraflores Locks, we were officially in the Pacific Ocean. Going under the Bridge of the Americas was like when we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. Captain Derek had trouble keeping the grin off his face! It was 6 pm before we reached the Flamingo Marina where we got off Adagio and took a taxi back to Shelter Bay Marina arriving at 9:30. A very long but satisfying day!
Transiting the Panama Canal was an unforgettable experience!