Posted by: vlbyers | June 12, 2012

Transiting the Panama Canal

Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal

Joe tie those tires

Denny and Becky arrive to Rocinante

Arrival of ‘Ricky’ our advisor

View of the locks

Bridge of the Americas

our first ‘lockmate’

I gotta rest for the work ahead!

Rafted up with Salty

Well got my gloves, I’m ready


Becky working hard

Denny working hard

The first shot of the Caribbean

Shelter bay Marina entrance

An experience of a lifetime, something we have had on our itinerary since we began this journey, just something to do on a Saturday afternoon. There are many ways one could describe this experience but one that in my opinion is a memory that will last a lifetime. We transited with 3 of our very good friends, Joe from the bay area and Becky and Denny on Kokomo currently in the San Blas, having good friends to share the journey certainly made it very enjoyable.
A month ago Larry reserved our date of transit, we called several days in advance to confirm and got our tires and lines. There isn’t much preparation of the boat to do the transit besides some provisioning and tying the tires to the side of the boat to prevent damage from other boats or the canal. Clearing of the decks is also helpful so crew can walk easily and lines don’t get tangled at critical times.
The morning of the transit, the 9th of June we were to meet our advisor at about 7:30. Arriving at the meeting place area nice and early we circled for more than 1/2 hour, having a little breakfast and talking with anticipation of what the day may unfold for us. All of us are experienced sailors, 3 of us had been through the canal at least once before and 2 of us were novices. I liked being the novice, that made the trip through the canal in my own boat even more special.
Our advisor arrived at 0745, his name was Ricky and he started joking with us about this being his first time through the canal too, we knew at once that this would be a fun day.
Our first locking was throught the Miraflores locks, we were told that we would be rafting (tying up to) a power boat named Salty. Once we got the lines tied correctly and tight enough that we weren’t slipping around, it was a piece of cake, the power boat did all the manuvering since he had the ‘power’ and we sat back and relaxed. Well not really, we did have to throw one line off of our starboard side, the power boat had lines fore and aft off his port side and since he was bigger than us had a line off the bow of his starboard side. The two of us were then center tied in the lock. We went through this way through all three of the miraflores locks.
After the last of the miraflores locks we let go of the power boat an in a few minutes he was out of sight, we would enjoy the journey through Gatun lake. Ricky let us know that we would be spending the night in the lake, he was pretty sure we would not make the 3pm cutoff time to go through the Gatun locks. We had some lunch, talked and shared stories and pictures of kids and grandkids and Becky and I took naps.
At about 3pm we were only 1/2 hour away from the Gatun locks, as I looked at the chart and we only had about 4 miles to go I thought well we were actually pretty close to our deadline but they must be pretty strict about the time. Already having the joker reputation, I didn’t believe Ricky when he said we would be going through in about an hour. We rousted ourselves and got to our posts, ready to tie up to the rough dock awaiting our orders when we saw the locks opening, thankfully we didn’t have to tie up to that dock.
This time through we would be center tied by ourselves and behind us would be a Panamax. Now I know why they call them the Panamax, they are the widest ships that can fit in the canal and were built specifically for that. Another lane is being built to accommodate even larger ships, the locks currently have 2 lanes, this one will add just another locking lane, the remainder of the transit canal through the lake will be the same one used now. The Gatun locks were as low stress as the Miraflores, of course that probably had to do with the competence and calmness of the advisor, captain and his crew. We center tied which means we had lines from each ‘corner’ of our boat and one person responsible for adjusting the line as it needed to be let out as we slowly descended the lock. The line handlers had a small line with a knot called a monkey fist that they very expertly threw at our boat, we tied that line to the very large lines on our boat and then fet the line to the top of the lock. That line was secured to a large bollard and we had the other end secured either to a cleat or to our winches. Adjusting the line to keep us centered in the lock was pretty easy. After each lock opened and we were ready to exit, the line handlers would unhook the large line and let it fall into the water, still with the small line attached. We would fetch the line back onto the boat and beging motoring to the next lock, where the line handlers would walk with us attached to us via their little line. The process would be repeated with each lock, until the last one when they would untie their line from ours and drop the large line into the water at which point we retrieved it for the last time.
We are now in Shelter bay marina after celebrating our successful transit, enjoying being on the dock, being able to clean up the boat a bit and do some laundry, the pool, restaurant and the beautiful showers, not to mention the loan of a very efficient pump for our bilge when one hour before we were planning to leave for Portabello our bilge filled with water floating the floorboards.
The transit was quite successful, stay tuned for the bilge pump story.


  1. Way cool milestone!!

    Paul and Chris
    (currently in Norfolk)

  2. YOU DID IT!! YEAH – good on ya and what a fantastic experience for you! My wish is that you find Panama as wonderful as we do and we hope to be together when we are there next and to hear about your adventures. You’ve been talking about this transit from the day you first sailed away from WA and now that dream has become a reality for you. So, we’re glad you are now safe and sound in the Atlantic and on to your next adventure. Looking forward to seeing you soon
    Jackie K

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: