Panama and the Canal

February8-18 2022

We arrive in Shelter Bay Tuesday morning and get ready for our canal crossing which consists of a visit from the canal authority where Infinity is measured and assigned a day slot along with nesting assignments. A “nest” is a group of 2 or 3 boats that are ”rafted “ together during the passage through the locks.

We wait around for our assigned slot with 11 other Oysters but in the meantime there is lots to do. First and most importantly is a haul out to see what happened to our W/S hydro generator. Turns out the bolts sheared off with no obvious reason and no sign of impact- it sits behind the keel … We elect to reinstall a pod with a smaller prop and are back in the water 6 hours later. My hope is that this will correct a litany of problems we have had with our hydrogenerator for the past 3000 miles. Stay tuned…..

Added benefit Infinity’s bottom gets washed , a requirement for entering the waters of the Galapagos.

Next on to the fun stuff…. Shelter bay is on the west side of Navy Bay and Colon adjacent to jungle and Fort Lorenzo. Morning hikes bring us in contact with all manner of jungle animals including Howler monkeys and sloths.

Sloths rarely come out of the trees

Oyster Yachts host a fantastic party at Ft Lorenzo, the historic fort that pirate Cpt Morgan of spiced rum fame overtook in 1671 on his way to Panama City to steal all the Spanish gold stored in Panama.

Ft Lorenzo looking up the Chagas river
It is Carnival in Panama and the dancers put on a fantastic performance
Panamanian Carnival , a big celebration in this predominantly Catholic country, partly celebrates the liberation of black slaves and their inclusion into Panamanian culture

Our transit date through the canal gets pushed back 3 days so Gail and I ,desperate for better internet, take off to Panama City for the weekend. Armed with a list of places to go from a Panamanian tourist advisor we befriended at the Oyster event ;we have a fantastic time exploring the ”Old City “as well as modern Panama City. PC ,the new hub of finance for South America is filled with ultramodern skyscrapers . It is friendly, fun , culturely diverse and full of great restaurants. A memorable Valantine’s Day weekend.

Looking out over the roofs of the Old city from restaurant CasaCasco to PC ‘s modern skyline
The Old City to the Pacific
Panama City’s modern skyline
The Panama Canal Museum… well worth the visit

Canal Transit:

After a weeks wait our time to transit the canal finally arrives. The Panama canal is an engineering wonder completed in 1914 after 10 years construction ; under a budget of 400 million dollars and ahead of schedule. Built and operated by the US until the canal was turned over to Panama in December 1999.For those interested a comprehensive book on the canal The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough is a good read.

The canal is composed of the 3 Gatun locks on the Atlantic side , Gatun lake and the Miraflores locks on the Pacific side. To say the canal and Gatun lake are impressive is an understatement. It is a bucket list experience. The Gatun lake created by the Gatun dam on the Chagras river ,see pic above, helps link the 2 sets of locks .

Canal Schematic

To help understand the immense scale of the canal consider the following:

-Gatun dam and spillways on the Chagas River is over 1.2 miles in length and at the time was the largest earthen dam ever built.

-Gatun lake was the largest man made lake in history at the time… We travel over 20 miles through the lake between the Atlantic and Pacific locks.

-The locks at the time of building were the largest concrete structures ever built and have functioned flawlessly 24/7 for over 100 years.

In short it was a bell ringing project when completed in 1914 that even today is very impressive.

Our trip through the canal starts at 1600 Wednesday afternoon when our Panamanian pilot boards Infinity and we start our trip towards the Gatun locks. After nesting up we enter the 3 locks and complete our transit into Gatun lake by 2300 that night . We spend the night rafted to a mooring ball where our pilot departs for home.

Approaching the Gatun locks at dusk
1st Gatun lock… the water entering the lock buffets our nests as we rise 25 ft in @ 10 minutes
The doors close

Next morning our second pilot Moses arrives and we start our 20 mile transit of Gatun Lake. The water way is extremely well marked with very modern excellent buoy system. In addition our Panamanian pilot is telling us exactly when to turn and where to go.

Our Gatun Lake transit starts
We are not the only traffic in the canal
The transit fee for one of these big boys is @ $800K to $1M
Oysters single file along buoys
Most prominent navigational ranges I’ve ever encountered
Culbra Cut through the continental divide was one of the great engineering challenges due to the heavy Panamanian rains and constant mudslides during construction . Later name changed to Gaillard Cut after the engineer responsible for this section.
Panamanian line handler. They throw a ”Monkey Fist” AKA steel ball attached to a string at the boat where we grab their line tie on a ”panamanian mooring line” 120ft long which they put on Ballard .
Gail handling the Monkey Fist line
Final Miraflores lock before the Pacific… That is a cruise ship in the parallel lock on our left
Leaving the last lock and entering the Pacific
Arriving in the Pacific…
”Bridge of the Americas” will be replaced in next 2 years as it is too low for todays larger freighters
Saying goodby to Moses our Pilot… special thanks for teaching Gail how to tie a Bowline 😎
Ships waiting in Bay of Panama for crossing to the Atlantic

Parting Thoughts:

The Panamanian Canal Authority runs a remarkably professional and well organized operation. I think all the Oysters were impressed and struck by how privileged we all were to have had this experience.

I started the first part of our trip with the misperception that south american countries were backwards and crime ridden. While pockets of this still clearly exist my experience in Columbia and Panama have demonstrated fast growing economies that are modernizing at a dizzying rate. It is fun to see.

Now after a few days exploring the Las Perlas islands along the Panamanian coast we are off to the Galapagos and points west.

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