Another line handler transit of the Panama Canal

Friday morning we were up early and got ourselves organised for another Panama Canal transit.   We packed our bags, had a decent brunch, and went over to meet Derek and Allison on Arielle – which is a 50 foot Tayana – at 1.30 pm.  Shortly afterwards Terry and Carol, our dock neighbours, joined us and we slipped away from the marina.   We motored over towards the flats and dropped anchor…and wondered how long we would have to wait this time.   Well, amazingly at 3.30 the adviser turned up – only 30 minutes behind Arielle’s allocated time – so all three boats started motoring towards the Gatun Locks through the shipping lines and trying to stay away from the tugs that create huge wakes.   And we enjoyed waving to the Saga Cruise Ship that had just transited the Canal.

Our fellow rafters were a 42 foot French boat and Chris on Sea Bear, which is a 28 foot Vancouver.    We approached the locks and we were impressed by our adviser as he gave clear and succinct instructions to the whole fleet.  We rafted up – with us in the middle – and, usually, that would mean we would sit there and do nothing other than drive the boats through.  Well, as Sea Bear is so small we had to do the bow and stern lines too…so they sat and watched us!  

Into the first lock and we pulled the lines taut to the wall….then the water started coming in strongly and, of course, we have the starboard wall lines at a longer stretch as we had to allow for Sea Bear’s width too…and this is the tougher side.  So Richard and I took the bow and worked it together. 

We were having an uneventful time until the line handlers on the shore got the ropes caught on the wall as we moved between locks…so there was some shouting and hollering before they cleared it.  There was a real risk of propping one of these ropes but luckily Sea Bear were able to keep the line out of the water despite it running behind us.   Something else to watch out for!    But mainly we had a good run through the three locks and, unlike last time, it was still daylight when we arrived in Gatun Lake.

We tied up to the large plastic mooring ball and the adviser was collected by his launch.   We helped Sea Bear raft to the other side and we sat there watching the sun go down having a cold beer and a chilli con carne dinner.  

At 9 pm we headed to bed – it had been a long tiring day.  Richard and I had drawn the short straw so had not got the double berth in the forepeak.   I had a pilot berth and Richard had the saloon settee….but there are no fans on this boat!!!   It was blisteringly hot and within minutes I knew I could not sleep on that berth….so we took ourselves off to the cockpit.

At 5.00 am on Saturday morning a big ship was coming through the new lock and the whistles and horns woke me up.  So we gathered our thoughts…and took advantage of the heads being free to get washed up and changed.   By the time the sun came up we were ready….and the others were just starting to stir…when the adviser turned up!!!  

Yes…it was only just gone 7.00 am in the morning….    Great – so we untied the raft and motored across the Gatun Lake having a lovely cup of tea (as you would expect with a 100% British crew LOL) and breakfast whilst admiring the sights of the huge dredging operation to cut through the solid rock and widen the canal…and the massive maintenance areas.

Finally we arrived at the first lock of the day around 11.00 am and rafted up again and got ourselves settled.   All went well…and then it was time to go down again….this time in the lock furthest away from the visitor centre so there wasn’t any waving to the tourists.   And there was no big ship either – just a large 100 foot+ training schooner, a tourist trip boat and our raft.   

Eventually we cleared the locks and said hello to the Pacific again.  Woo hoo – another successful transit!   We unrafted and motored towards the Balbao yacht club admiring the huge tall ship as we went through…and saying goodbye to our adviser when his launch came to pick him up.

We picked up a mooring ball and said our farewells to Allison and Derek before heading over to land on the water taxi.   Sea Bear crew were not long behind us.  I’d arranged for Mr Stanley to take us all back in his bus so we had a couple of pitchers of beer in the yacht club while we waited – we were almost four hours ahead of our last transit.  

We drove back to Shelter Bay Marina – again on the Caribbean side – by 5.30 pm.  We had a couple of cold ones in the bar and a quick dinner before returning to Morphie for a lovely shower and an early night.   We feel completely ready for our own Canal Transit now – just need two more line handlers.   Everyone that has come to speak to us so far wants to crew all the way across the Pacific – er no thanks….    We have put an advert up on the noticeboard so hope that will get us sorted soon.   

Sunday morning and we bumped into Charlie and Saundra who were at the Cruisers Palapa.   Their big news was that the odious John had left the boat.  Woo hoo…excitement and happy dancing!!!  Glad we don’t have to see his ugly mug ever again.   We did a few jobs on board and met up with them for a bobbing session in the pool later in the afternoon.  

We did intend to go the BBQ in the evening but tiredness overtook us and we had another early night.

This morning, Monday, and we were back on the shopping bus at 7.45 am.   Another big shop…and another trip back via the ferry on the supermarket’s complimentary van.  Not the most comfortable ride but it does save us $30 plus tip…  

We got back to Morphie and put it all away – the back cabin is swiftly turning into a garage – and then took a rest.   We are now in the Cruisers Lounge trying to catch up on internet jobs….more boat jobs beckon tomorrow.

Bye for now