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Panama Canal

You would think we had enough of water being on a boat full time, but apparently for transiting the Panama canal we didn’t have enough water! Gatun lake, which feeds the locks of the Panama canal, was at a critically low level and was 5 feet below normal due to lack of rainwater. Had the water levels been ok all 37 World ARC boats would have gone through together rafted in groups three and have the locks to ourselves. Unfortunately, this time transiting together was not be possible. Thankfully it was the World ARC yellow shirts (organisers) who had the unenviable job of liaising with the Panama Canal Authority to slot us into the locks at appropriate times with the large ships.

Over the next week, we were allocated measuring & fumigation times, special ropes and fenders and canal briefings along with approximate transit times. We learnt quickly the key was to be flexible as our transit time changed several times. Every boat had to have four line handlers, a captain and we were allocated a Canal Advisor. Karen and Lesley volunteered to help another boat transit through before our own transit, which was fabulous as they learnt some top tips that we were able to use.

A few horror stories reached as the first boats finished their transits: Two boats got some damage and some rather frazzled crew members recalled how tense and “shouty” their advisers had been. As the days passed I started to feel a little nervous.

We were buddied up with Laura IV, a 54 ft Italian Catamaran. Tied up to them, well fendered and with the guidance of our lovely advisor Kirsty, we maneuvered into our first lock in text book fashion. We were really lucky and we had fabulous advisors who just liked being with us, especially Kirsty who kept taking photos as this was her first all female crew and the first ARC boat she had been on.

As darkness descended it was quiet a sight going into the locks following a large container vessel which was towed by trains and the place was brimming full of lights. We spent the night moored up on Gaten lake and thanks to Laura IV we were treated to some fabulous Italian pasta and wine.

We had been advised that our advisor for the down locking process would arrive about 7am. Fortunately I was up on deck at 0640 to see the pilot boat approaching. The girls thought I was joking that our advisor was here. As I announced it was a bloke – you have never seen such frantic action going from stark naked to dressed within seconds!

Our trip down the locks towards the Pacific was fabulous, the Advisors helped us learn how to maneuver the raft with Pino (captain Laura IV) and I locked in coordinating our engines and helm. The girls did a fabulous job at heaving on those heavy lines and as the final lock gates opened and the Pacific lay before us – we all had huge grins on our faces.

Laura IV and the Advisors had helped us have a most enjoyable transit, one none of us shall ever forget. Another great fun team experience. Below Nicola as the dock gates open out into the Pacific