November 17: Day One
Imagine driving your only home, but for the first time, attached to a 47′ monohull, for 80km for two days! And, ensuring both boats stayed in the middle of each of six locks, each dumping loads of water, creating current, and backsplash and having four lines held by people you need to trust, from the two boats to either side of the canal.
For an order of magnitude, in 2020, the canal used 1200+ mil cubic meters (Mm3) of water to power the Panamax locks alone (A new set of Neopanamax locks were recently opened for even bigger container ships). When we went Up the locks, we were followed by a 650’+ container ship, and when we went Down the locks, we were followed by a container ship. There was No wiggle room.
Ensuring nothing went South were our good friends, Susan Zimmerman and Bill Tham, who joined us for the experience. Line handlers, videographers, cooks and all around extra set of hands, Bill and Susan created and presented us a lovely video which you can watch here as well!
Link to Tham’s Two Day Crossing Video is HERE
Link to Time Lapse Video of Day 2 is HERE
We also hired a local line handler, Juan, who could not have been more courteous or more professional. Juan slept on Enjoy over night but the first day Canal Advisor (Regis) went home after enjoying a pressure cooker lasagna that Don had prepared ahead of time!
The first day, we went up the first three locks, called Gatun locks, to Lake Gatun. The artificial lake provides Panama with much of its fresh water supply while also acting as a reservoir of water for the canal locks. When annual rainfall is lower than anticipated, it can hurt canal operations which provides a critial 2.7-3.8% of Panama’s National Nominal GDP (EBITDA $1.9 B, 2020). We then fitfully slept over night on a rubber mooring ball, making sure not to dive into the waters favored by local crocodiles.
November 18: Day 2
Waking up November 18 at 6 am sharp when we heard the canal launch horn bringing our new Canal Advisor, Eduardo, Don took the helm once again to drive the long 24 km stretch of Gatun Lake. For a while, Nina took the helm as well, hugging the bouys much closer than Don preferred but as requested by the Advisor. Eduardo’s contention was to give passing container ships more leeway, but Don’s concern was leeway for ourselves should something go south. At least we were driving alone until we arrived at the second set of locks.
We then pulled over to the wall, and went through the routine again of bow and stern lines, and two spring lines from admidships, lining up each of our fenders with the same boat SV Nana. This was in preparation to go Down three locks to the Pacific side of Panama.
As expected, Don ensured we transited the Miraflora locks safely, all of us shouting with relief as we first saw the Pacific waters. Disconnecting from SV Nana, we said our goodbyes and motored to Balboa Yacht Club. Juan helped us take a mooring ball and went home to his young family in the launch that did double duty picking up the rented canal fenders and lines.
Susan, Bill, Don and I celebrated once again and soon falling into a very deep sleep. It took us a good two to three days to recover! We had two days to explore Panama City together and then it was time for Bill and Sue to return home.