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!
…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.
…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!
…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.
…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! 🙂
It’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,