Transiting the Panama Canal
Yes we did it! On May 5th, 2022 Matilda and crew successfully transited the Panama Canal.
The Panama Canal is an amazing waterway which was carved through one of the narrowest and lowest saddles of the long isthmus that joins the North and South American continents. It opened to traffic in August 1914. It took 10 years to build and the labor of 75,000 men and women. An estimated 25,000 workers devastatingly lost their lives during this difficult process.
We knew we were close when we saw dozens of ships at anchor in the bay just to the west of Panama City. And I mean dozens just sitting and waiting for their turn to go through.
We pulled into the marina and started the process to transit the canal. First we met with our agent and signed the paperwork and paid the fees. Next came the official to measure the boat. This official boat measurer showed up promptly however, apparently he had forgotten his tape measure. The only one we could locate was a tiny 6 foot one which apparently did the trick. That night we were notified of the date and time that we were scheduled to transit.
The next few days were spent provisioning and enjoying the wonderful city. Panama City is booming and is filled with high rise buildings. It is apparently overtaking Miami as Latin America’s business center.
It was quite fun being in the marina and meeting mostly European boats who had transited the canal from the Atlantic side. We also met others who were, like us, awaiting their turn to transit from the Pacific. We had 2 friends join us from the US – Lou and Dave as line handlers and we also hired a local man as a line handler.
The appointed time of departure was 4:30am – we motored out to the buoy where we were joined by the Advisor who boarded our boat for the transit. We were prepared for his arrival and had a full service hot breakfast waiting for him. It was made very clear to us that the Advisor and line handlers were to be fed heartily and often and no vegetables or salad. We obliged and apparently we did well in this area because the Advisor ate 4 huge meals that day.
The transit was long and it rained all it day but was without any mishaps. We were initially in the center chamber behind a very slow grain ship. The Advisor realized that we would not be able complete the transit in one day if we stayed behind this slow poke. He made some frantic calls and encouraged us to go really fast to cut in front of slow grain ship. So we did, the thought of spending the night in the Lake with all these people aboard was not sitting well with one person in particular! We then went through the next locks with a motor carrier ship and it’s tug boat to whom we were attached. Finally for the last few locks we cut in front of motor carrier still sharing the lock but in front of the ship and latched to the wall of the lock.
Twelve hours later we arrived on the Atlantic side. One more large sandwich and some chips for the Advisor before we dropped him off on his waiting vessel. We motored to our marina and hastily tied up and headed to the restaurant for some dinner and well deserved drinks.
The next morning our crew was approached by the people on the catamaran directly across from us in the marina. They had been visiting the Miraflores Lock and from the viewing platform they had taken a picture of us going through. This was incredible luck and hence we have these attached pictures.
We are still sitting in the marina waiting for a part for our water maker and itching to head off to the remote and apparently stunning San Blas Islands. Hopefully tomorrow……..
In the Miraflores Lock