(5) The Canal Transit! – COMPLETE


The Canal Transit!– COMPLETE!

What a great trip!  Islands of Pacific Panama, Costa Rica, the Canal, and it was just great to be in the Pacific.  I had forgotten what Pacific sunsets were like on the water.  It felt like home.

The islands on the Pacific side are under rated for sure.  They are truly tropical paradises, and relatively untouched.  The cooler water temps makes the air temp much milder compared to the Carribean side.

Costa Rica is as beautiful as everyone says.  The ex-pats in Golfito are an interesting bunch of people, and I’ll regret not getting to spend more time there.

The canal transit was, however, the highlight of Leg 5.  So I’ll detail our transit experience.

The Canal is 48 miles long, and it took exactly 24 hours, including the 9 hours of anchoring overnight on Gatun Lake.  There are three sets of locks on each side of the canal, connecting either ocean with Gatun Lake, a huge man made lake that makes up the bulk of the ‘canal’.  We departed our holding anchorage at around 5pm on Friday with our Transit Advisor, a Canal employee that comes on board to direct you and coordinate with canal controllers. After a series of holds for passing ships, we entered the first lock at sunset.

Up-locking is the most complicated part of the transit.  To keep from being pushed against the concrete walls, we ‘center chambered’, which means we had dock lines running to the walls on either side, and stayed in the middle of the lock.

Holding the boat in place is very difficult, because the inrush of water from the bottom of the lock creates strong currents that change direction as the water rises, and each lock raises you around 30′.  The process is a coordination between the crew on deck taking in slack on the dock lines while the skipper holds the boat in place with the engines.

By coincidence, the only other small boat transiting Friday was another Lagoon Catamaran, a model 400, which is the 40′ version of Reliant.  It must have looked like the big R had a mini-me from the top of the locks.  That boat tied to us on our Starboard side, and each crew worked dock lines on their side of the lock to keep both boats in place as one unit.

Ahead of us in the lock was ‘Tequila Sunrise’, a 560′ bulk carrier(when uplocking, they put smaller boats behind the big transports).  We stayed with the other Lagoon and the big transport through all three locks.

We cleared the last Atlantic lock around 9pm, and after a fresh water swim we spent the night anchored in the jungle, with howler monkeys screaming all around.  We started again at 6am when the next Transit Advisor came aboard.

The lake itself is beautiful, and according to the Transit Advisor, full of Peacock Bass.  Along the shorelines it looks a lot like man made lakes in the states.  The only section that really looks like a ‘canal’ is the Gallard Cut, which is the final 8 miles before reaching the Pacific side.  The lake passage was relaxing and uneventful and we reached the Pacific locks by 3pm.

Down locking is a milder experience compared to up locking because there are no significant currents, and sometimes the only way you know you are descending is by watching the water level drop against the lock walls.  Otherwise it is the same process in reverse, three sets of locks, entering and maneuvering with a large transport ship behind(they put little boats in front when down locking), and whatever other small boats are going through with you.

We cleared the last lock a little after 5pm, and after dropping off Ricardo the Transit Advisor, we moored at Balboa Yacht Club.

Sunday night was spent partying with locals at Taboga Island, which is about 15 miles from Panama City.  The crew of the Reliant risked life and limb to swim ashore for emergency provisions(I believe land lubbers sometimes call this a ‘beer run’)  Jeff gets an honorable mention for discovering the ‘BEAVER STROKE’.  This is a little like a back stroke, except you put your paws up like a beaver and carry the beer on your chest.  If only I had a picture…

Monday morning we dropped Nate, Gary, and Stephanie off in Panama City, and the Reliant continued on to Costa Rica, passing through the many islands on the Pacific side of Panama.  We passed so many small  island groups I can’t mention them all, but one of note was Coiba Island.  We did not go ashore, but Coiba is the largest Central American Island, and a marine preserve.

We did stop at Isla Montuosa on our way up the coast.  The island was completely uninhabited, except for the remnants of an old fishing camp.  White sand beaches, Palm Trees, and real jungle in the interior.  We were able to secure coconuts for desert, and we did find a fresh water stream.

Passage to Costa Rica from Panama City took about 48 hours, including our stop.  The new autopilot worked!  The only event was another fishing net we picked up on the starboard prop.  I was able to clear it while underway.  Oh, and lot’s of dolphins, a couple of sea turtles, and we think a pilot whale.

No sloths sighted in either country…so my search continues.

Reliant is currently moored at Banana Bay Marina, Golfito, Costa Rica.

Leg Complete!

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