Panama Canal Crossing

We have prepared as per instructions from our agent … and are ready.

We picked up the pilot in “the flats”. The wind was blowing over 25kts, and the swell was steep and short. These pilots, and the captains of the pilots boats make it look so easy, but as boaters, we are fully aware of how tricky it is to achieve the transit from one boat to another. We did not lose our pilot or get our boat damaged in the process.

Our pilot Juan was a young guy, he was well qualified having attended Kings Point in New York, and he had also been a 2nd officer on Disney cruise ships. He explained our position in the chamber as well as what other vessels would be with us. Initially we were to tie up with a tug boat so the canal authority sent out some paperwork for Captain to sign. This changed before we even arrived at the chamber and we ended up tying to the side wall. He warned of the strong wind and current upon entering the first chamber. His warning was spot on because as the line handlers were attending to the bow lines, the stern was being pushed way from the wall and because we were up against the tug ahead of us, there was little Captain could do to maintain position. Fortunately the line handlers managed to get the situation under control before we did a 180! This was my 2nd time to be grateful for professional Line handlers. They also made very sure the fenders kept the boat off the side wall at all times. As soon as the lock gate closed, the chamber started to fill up and it went surprising quickly, and soon t was time to move on again. We were the last two leave the chamber.

In the next chamber, we tied up alongside a passenger ferry, on the opposite side of the chamber.Again the line handlers did a great job of pulling Kariwa alongside and securing the lines to the ferry boat and placing the fenders appropriately. The third chamber was a breeze, and before we knew it, we were steaming through Gatun Lake to Gamboa. Gamboa is a small town near the Pedro Miguel locks on the pacific side of the canal infrastructure. Here the line handlers secured Kariwa to the mooring buoy and the pilot boat came o collect Juan. Time to relax and decompress from the days activities. We fed the guys and soon everybody was taking a bot of private time to talk to their families and prepare for sleep.

The next morning after breakfast and tea, we spent a couple of hours watching the northbound ships passing relatively close to us. It reminded me of the days in Hong Kong where we had to cross the shipping channel when leaving or returning to the marina. A new pilot joined us and we proceeded to the next lock. The new pilot (I never got his name) was also very professional and knowledgeable. He was also relieved rot see we had Panamanian line handlers. He said that usually cruisers get their buddies to help and it is not great because generally the buddies are captain of their own boats and on a boat there can be only one captain. We had to speed up a bit through the Galliard cut to arrive timorously at the lock. We had to pass a Seatrade container ship to enter the lock. It was quite a nerve wracking experience but Frank handled it like a pro. On the pacific side there are three locks, the first is Pedro San Miguel which is only a single chamber. A bit further along, there are the Miraflores locks which have two chambers so we tied and untied lines three times again. In the Miraflores locks, the Seatrade was behind us so as the ship was entering the lock, we had to have our engine going astern because the ship was pushing all the lock water ahead and up against the lock gate.

Lets just say that when that last lock gate opened, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. We steamed ahead into the Pacific ocean, dropped the pilot off and proceeded to La Playita Marina. The line handlers came with us so did all the line handling and secured us to the dock. Thanks guys. We slept very well that night.