Pedalling as fast as we can! (Panama Canal transit ~ now in the Caribbean!!)

How do you describe what it’s like to transit the panama canal?

…Well, it’s like pedalling a bicycle as fast as you can, telling the advisor we’re going “almost 5 knots” when he asks our speed (2.5 is almost 5, right?!). Since you are required to maintain 5 knots at all times — unspecified if they mean through the water or over land — I didn’t want to advertise our slow-boatness in the crazy currents. Not that it even mattered since we completely missed the first ship we were supposed to transit with, putting us “in danger of having transit voided” (whatever that means?!?). Thankfully there was one more ship going through that morning, so we locked through with them!

Bridge of Americas -- Panama Canal Transit

Leah & Carey - Panama Canal Transit

…It’s also not at all like I remembered 😉 My memory of the canal was “hot and boring”. Our transit this time was not boring, and actually it wasn’t that hot either. Our first two locks went sideways — literally — and it took a lot of man-handling work to get the boat back to centre. The other locks were much smoother (I figured out that it was the short shot of reverse I was giving that was causing our fish-tail… no good when you’ve got giant cement walls on either side!), but we were centre-chamber the entire time, meaning all 4 line-handlers were full-on, always. These guys worked HARD, and they were pretty tired by the end of the day.

14-year old Leah -- she had it easy

A photo I dug up of me transitting the canal in 2002. 14-year old Leah had no idea how easy she had it!!

…It’s a long couple of days. I didn’t remember how far it was to get across Gatun Lake, so yesterday once we’d made it through the up-locks the fact that we still had 28 nm to go was a bit of a shock. Our poor advisor (Guillermo — he was awesome) didn’t get to go home until 9:30 pm, and after 12 hours of hand-steering (there was too much traffic to really use the autopilot), I was wiped myself. Then back up at 6:00 am today, for the down-locks, all the while with everyone working 100%, and it’s safe to say we’re all a little spent!






Look at these guys — they mean business!



…It’s also a profound experience of marriage. Which is a weird thing to say when you’re talking about the Panama Canal, but it was just everything: watching Jon single-handedly save our sideways lock entrance by strong-arming the boat back to centre; blessing my lucky stars for the husband that will line-handle all morning and then cook for 6 people all afternoon; even just literally being in the place where the oceans meet and the West-coast girl officially starts her East-coast life. This was our first real sailing milestone, and we did it together, and it was just an awesome experience. I’m a lucky girl.


That’s the Caribbean way down behind us!


…The giant mooring-ball that we tied to for the night seemed like a good place to attempt a photo-shoot. Key-word: attempt


…It was overwhelming. The BIG-ness of it all: the big ships looming behind you, the big locks, the big doors, the big new ocean, the big thing you’re accomplishing… at times it just felt huge. I think I just really underestimated how hard it would be and how big it would all feel!


Being able to look down and see the Caribbean way, way, wayyyy below us was pretty darn cool 🙂


And now we’re tucked up in Shelter Bay Marina, unwinding and taking advantage of wifi and $4/load laundry.

The last thing I’ll say about our Panama Canal transit is that we could not have done it without our amazing friends Bryan & Carey from Copernicus, and Bill who flew all the way from Maine to be here. We are so, so, SO lucky to have had such awesome friends help us through, and I am eternally grateful to all of them for their help. Not to mention their patience with living in our little boat! 🙂

The happy line-handlers, relaxing after our Panama Canal TransitIt’s been an exciting jam-packed two days, and I think we’re all looking forward to a little more relaxation now 🙂

That’s about it from here!

From the Caribbean,



Pedalling as fast as we can! (Panama Canal transit ~ now in the Caribbean!!) — 13 Comments

  1. You & John sitting on the mooring reminds me of you, Jessie & Lindsay on the mooring ball in Fiji! On the hook in Isla Provedencia.

    • Bruce I was having the same memory!! The 3 of us spent days on that Suva mooring — I think we even beaded there for a bit?? Few days here & in the San Blas, then we’ll be coming your way. Really hoping to share that anchorage with you guys!!

  2. Congratulations Both . Getting sideways in big locks with other ships in or entering is NOT fun . In our early days on ‘Robert’ in France Nevillie and I achieved it a couple of times !
    SO , now you turn left and head north . Goodonya !
    Finished the Summer Season of Wednesday Wonders yesterday with a good 6th out of about 40 yachts, ranging from 24 to 55 feet long , in fresh conditions. Loved it .
    I go to Sydney tomorrow for a few days to check on john and Helen and the 4 Troops . Next I will see them will be in Ancona on 25th as we meet and board the shio for Split . Lisa , Leon , Max , Geof and Bron all say hello Leah . Luv to both Peter d.

    • I was thinking of you on Robert, Peter, wondering how many locks you have to do before it ever feels ‘easy’!?! We were so lucky not to ever touch the lock walls (so no damage), but it certainly felt stressful at times!! Looking forward to hearing more of your adventures — and hugs and hellos to Lisa & Leon too!

  3. YAY for being in the Caribbean – that is so exciting! I love your line about starting your “East Coast Life” – so excited for you!! xoxo

  4. Ahoy there! I read your very entertaining blog and almost wish I was there…especially as I sit in our living room on a gloomy day in the Pacific Northwest. But then I remind myself that I had a year of adventure that many people don’t get in a lifetime and that I can live vicariously through you without the stress! Thanks for keeping my dreams alive :-).

    • Haha Bonnie there are many days I could seriously go for a dose of PNW gloom!! Especially if it came with a dry bed and zero stress 😛 If it makes you feel any better, it’s been raining here too!! Time to go north! 😉

      • Also I keep forgetting to tell you that we played Catchphrase with Chrysalis and talked about you and Kevin all night 🙂 It was like San Blas 2012 all over again!

  5. Congrats you two. The Panama Canal is definitely one of those sailing moments that you’ll always remember. Every time the canal comes up in conversation (and you’ll be surprised how often that is) you’ll think about how you went through it in your own little boat.

    • Thanks Pat 🙂 It is pretty fun to have pictures of our little boat coming through — and we definitely look little next to those giant freighters!! Loving your guys bus adventures… the fun never stops with the Bumfuzzles!!

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