The Panama Canal

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After waiting for nearly two weeks our time to transit the Panama Canal finally arrived. We chose to hire professional line handlers and rent additional fenders as well as well the required 125ft lines. We were originally scheduled to transit first thing in the morning on Monday. We were to meet our Canal Advisor at 4am just outside of the canal. We were told our line handlers would show up the night before and sleep on the boat. On Sunday afternoon we were informed that our transit time had been changed to 4pm on Monday. This was disappointing to us because we were excited to see the Canal and surrounding jungle in the daylight. Now that we were not transiting early our line handlers did not have to stay the night on Sunday. We were told they would show up at or around 2pm and we would be able to transit without stopping through the night.  This was good news as we did not want to stop and anchor in the canal. We told the kids that we would all try and get some sleep from 12:00-2:00 before the line handlers showed up. Not to mention this is Latin America so 2:00 could just as easily mean 3:30. That should be plenty of nap time to make it through the night. Just as I lay down at 12:15 Ranger let me know we had guests. Our line handlers were early! So instead of taking naps we found ourselves entertaining our guests. Luckily they were 3 early 20 something males so we put them in front of a video game with Alexander and Victoria while Ashley and I relaxed in the cockpit. We left the dock at 3:30 and made our way to the meeting point to pick up our canal advisor. As we arrived at the designated point we were told our transit time was again pushed back this time another hour. So we anchored and waited for the advisor. Any chance of seeing just a small part of the Canal in daylight was vanquished! When our canal advisor showed up we quickly got underway. We passed through a very busy industrial shipping port with huge ships coming and going all around us. It was very unnerving being so close to so many large moving ships. After about 7 miles we came to the first set of locks. We had heard horror stories about boats hitting the lock walls or the current causing maneuvering nightmares. Luckily we had just two other vessels in the locks with us. One of the other vessels was a 450 ft long ship that was in front of us. The other was an 85 ft offshore sport fishing boat. The sport fishing boat tied to the lock walls and we were instructed to tie to them. This went off without a hitch and just like that the lock doors were closing and we began to rise. That wasn’t too bad. The Miraflores locks are the first locks on the Pacific side. There are two locks back to back which open onto the first of the lakes. This first lake is 1 mile long at which point you reach the Petro Miguel lock which takes you to Gatun Lake. After rising in the first lock, the ship was pulled into the next lock. We then untied from the fishing boat but had to maintain our position just to the right so that the fishing boat could get ahead of us to tie on to the wall. Normally holding a position without moving is not that difficult. This time, however, there were 30 feet high concrete walls on both sides, there was the churning of the water from the mixing of fresh and salt water and there was the turbulence generated from the props of the nearly 5000 hp fishing boat. Oh yeah, at this point it was dark and windy too. It was more than a little stressful but we managed to keep the boat off the walls, the ship or the multi-million dollar sport fishing boat. I am sure they were more nervous than me that we might hit them. We repeated the lock entry and tie up process again without a hitch. And again we rose another 35 feet into the first lake. Once the lock doors opened the ship sped ahead followed by us and then the sport fishing boat. It was one mile to the next set of locks so we had plenty of time for the fishing boat to get ahead of us. The entry into the first locks went just as smooth and before we knew it we were in the famous man-made Lake Gatun. As we began the 21 mile route through Lake Gatun, the fishing boat powered up and quickly left us in their wake. The ship, too, kicked it into gear and just like that we were all alone on the lake.  The route through the lake is very well marked with red lighted buoys on the left and green lighted buoys on the right marking the channel. It is not a straight line so we were constantly watching for ships to come around the corners ahead. But much to our delight we only passed 4 ships over the entire 21 miles. The night was very dark with lots of clouds and no moon. We were not able to see much of anything as far as the surrounding terrain. Oh well, at this point it was late into the night and Ashley and I were very tired. Our line handlers were downstairs watching a moving and sleeping and Victoria and Alexander also went to sleep in their rooms. Our advisor never took his eyes off our course and was sharing much of his canal knowledge with me and Ashley. We had also heard horror stories about canal advisors who were on their phones the whole time and not paying much attention to what was going on. That was not our experience at all. Our advisor, Harold, was top notch. We could not have had a better advisor. He knew every turn, every bay and every point of interest about the canal. He also knew how boats handle and was very helpful when maneuvering in the locks. We arrived at the Atlantic side locks at 1:30am. These 3 locks are all back to back to back. Our previous lock boats had long ago been sent down so we had to wait for another ship to catch up to us. We waited for about 2 hours on the wall in the first lock. At just after 3:30am two massive tug boats and a large ship entered the locks right behind us. It was rather unnerving having all that tonnage right behind us when just in front of us was a door holding back a lake from falling 40 feet! With us being the boat tied to the wall this time we had to slacken the lines as we were lowered. Our three line handlers were top notch and did not have to be told what to do. As we moved from one lock to the next they just jumped right into action whenever and wherever it was needed. Each time we untied from the wall and drove into the next lock and tied again to the wall in that lock. It was again a little unnerving driving right up to a wall holding back so much pressure, and then looking down at the land and water 30ft below us! After being lowered once, twice and then a third time we entered the Atlantic Ocean. We were welcomed to the Atlantic with 20knot winds, a pitch black night and a steady swell on our bow. A delivery vessel came and picked up our advisor and we continued on to our marina. It was very windy when we arrived at the marina so we elected to just tie up to the fuel dock for the night. Our line handlers helped get us tied up, gave us all high fives and headed home. Ashley and I congratulated each other for getting Samadhi to a new ocean and we went to sleep. In retrospect we do wish we could have transited during the day so that we could all appreciate the beauty of the area. However, the whole process was so stressful and complete focus was needed at all times so I think that some of the beauty may have been missed anyway.   

Alexander preparing our pre-transit night meal
He is such an amazing helper!
Here he is helping to clean our bilges.
Alexander putting on a Mario Kart clinic for our line handling team.
They were taking it pretty serious after the nine year old kept whooping them!
Ships awaiting their turn to transit the canal
Harold being delivered via boat.
Now that is a massive ship! Look closely there are two ships in this picture.
We are just not supposed to be this close to moving ships!
Following the ship into our first locks.
Entering the first lock. The locomotives in the center of the picture are what pull the large ships forward.
These two were anxiously standing by to help when needed.
Going up!
Tied to the Sport fishing boat made it easier on our crew.
The ship nearly filled the locks.
Their line handlers pulling in the lines as we rise.
The kids fascinated by the process!
Alexander could not get enough of the fact that this has been happening here for over 100 years!
The one time it was kind of relaxing and enjoyable for me.
into the next lock
This time they did not pull the ship as far forward and we were a lot closer to it.
When we were rising the water was very turbulent!
At the Atlantic side it was our turn to tie to the wall.
That is just a little close for comfort!

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