Late morning on Friday 8th March, Colon Signal Station called us on the radio to announce our transit time of 1730 for the canal. And by 1300, our three line handlers were onboard. So, we slipped our mooring and headed out to the “flats” just outside the marina to wait for our Panama Canal Advisor, together with Krabat and JaJapami. Why that anchorage is called the flats, I have no idea. It’s one of the roughest anchorages we have come across. We spent the next few hours bouncing around in the wind and ship-induced swell.
Just before 1730, an industrial-looking boat arrived carrying Lawrence, our Canal Advisor, and Martin, a trainee Canal Pilot. And by 1730 our anchor was up, and we were on our way to Gatun Locks.
It’s mandatory to have four line handlers and an advisor onboard (as well as many fenders and four very long lines) for the transit. If any of these things are missing – you aren’t going anywhere. It’s also essential to have meals prepared for all of the guys on board. And these guys can eat.
By 1830 we had arrived at the new bridge across the canal, the one we saw when we crossed the canal by ferry on the way to Panama City.
And by 2000, we were in the first of the locks, now rafted up to Krabat, and we literally transited this part of the canal together.
Once out of the locks, we motored our way to our designated parking spot and shared a mooring ball with the French catamaran that was tied up to JaJapami. These are no ordinary mooring balls; they are huge and (fortunately for us) coated in rubber. Almost as soon as we tied to the ball (and this is where the professional line handlers come in very handy), a boat arrived to take Lawrence, Martin, and the other Advisors onboard Krabat home. And we broke out the food and the beer.
Gatun Lake and Miraflores
Our new advisor, Fransceco, arrived the next morning just after 0900 and, as soon as he was onboard, we set off towards Miraflores locks. I knew Gatun lake was big, but I didn’t appreciate just how big it is. We motored for hours across the lake before arriving at the next set of locks at Miraflores.
Bum Clencher at Miraflores Locks
Francesco advised us of the plan to tie up on the port side of the Frech catamaran as we approached Miraflores locks. No problem I thought. Carefully positioning Lady Jane at a distance from the catamaran, to allow for the wind blowing us onto him, I slipped the propellor into reverse – but kept on going forward, but faster. Bugger. After a few attempts at putting the gears in forward and reverse, nothing improved. So I turned the boat into the wind (at that time blowing at around 20 knots) and handed the helm to Maria so that I could go below to see what was happening.
There was nothing wrong with the rotation of the prop shaft. Forward gear rotated it one way, and reverse gear the other. The problem was with the propeller itself. It’s a feathering one and is supposed to change its pitch when in reverse. But this wasn’t happening. The only difference now between forward and reverse gears was 7 knots ahead and 2.5 knots ahead. Not ideal.
I explained this to Francesco, who then relayed it to the catamaran to which Krabat was already attached. The advisor’s solution was for us to keep our bow upwind while the catamaran and Krabat came to us. That worked. But it was the line handlers who stole the show. They made sure the boats didn’t make contact and quickly got the lines on and sorted out.
Towards the Pacific
I don’t think many people saw us on the webcam as we came through Miraflores locks. The camera only provides a snapshot, and it’s a case of blink, and you’ll miss it. Fortunately, though, Emily has presented us with the photograph below which shows JaJapami in the first lock and Lady Jane in the second tied next to the catamaran (Krabat is on the other side of the catamaran).
Balboa Yacht Club
By the time we arrived at Balboa Yacht Club to drop off the mooring balls, long lines, and our line handlers – it was getting dark. So we decided to stay for the night. The line handlers helped us to grab a mooring. And they got the boatman in charge of the moorings to help out after explaining to him that we have no astern propulsion. Shortly after that, a boat arrived to take the guys away (complete with ropes and fenders), and we were on our own.
Ideally, of course, we would be here with the ability to go backwards as well as forwards. But who needs reverse when you have tides in the Pacific?
This is a major milestone for us. And even though I can now crack walnuts with my stress-tightened buttocks, it was well worth the effort.
We are going to stay in Panama City for a few days to restock for the Pacific crossing to French Polynesia. But our next planned destination is the Galapagos islands – another one on the bucket list. And if we can get that propeller fixed – so much the better.