Friday, April 14, 2017

Transiting the Panama Canal

Yesterday we acted as line handlers on a Beneteau 35 as they went through the Panama Canal. It was an awesome experience it gave us the feel of what it would be like to take our own boat through . Having a intimate look at the process will greatly reduce our stress once it is our turn .  
In the first set of locks we came in behind a tanker and in the second set we were in front of a tanker. 

The trip takes a day and a half, from the east end you proceed through three locks, then you tie up to a big bouy and stay overnight. The next morning you motor through Gatun Lake , we reached the Pacific locks about 1500 hours . There are three locks there and then you are in the Pacific Ocean. 

The locks are huge, a big car tanker came in behind us in the second set of locks.  In order to expedite the process they hooked up three sailboats together.  We all rafted up together, on each boat there are six people, four line handlers, the captain who pilots the boat and the advisor who tells the captain where to go and instructs the line handlers. With three boats tied up together there were 18 people in close proximity to each other. We were on the port side of the floatilla so our boat was responsible for the lines to the left hand part of the canal. That meant that only two line handlers were needed , the other side of the boat was tied up t another, so I did not have a job and just got to observe and soak in the experience. I even managed to keep my bossy nature in check and not issue directions or even instructions to anyone, except Barry a few times!!
We started out late in the afternoon, so it was dark when we went through the first set of locks. 
We tied up to this large bouy overnight after the first series of locks. 
The hand liners on the sides of the dock throw a thin line with a big knot on the end to the boat, two lines from each side of the lock.  The boat line handlers tie the boat lines on to the thin lines and when you get to the position you are required to be in the lock the hand liners on the dock haul in the boat lines.
 The hand liners on the dock walk along the locks with the lines being careful the lines do not catch on the sides of the locks.  The first three locks you go up so the hand liners have to run up the stairs on the sides so they do not get the lines fouled.  For the tankers they have mules , cars which run on tracks which actually haul the tankers along the locks.  It was quite heart stopping to see the huge tanker bearing down on our small floatilla, knowing that it was supposed to stop but not entirely sure that it would. 
It is not a video, I just took a picture of the video footage Barry took. 
It was impressive when we went through the last lock. 
 I had a hard time believing that we were actually back in the Pacific Ocean after 9 years.  Even though it was not on our own boat I felt a real sense of accomplishment at getting there by water. I can imagine the feelings will be multiplied when we go through on May 5/6 on Cat's-Paw IV. 
The Bridge of the Americas and the Pacific Ocean in the background.