Panama part 5: The Panama Canal 19 &20th July 2017


Stu saw a croc in Gatun Lake,  this one was in Shelter Bay Marina.

Transmitting the Panama Canal, this is such an exciting thing for us. We have read, picked peoples brains and researched the organisation and the actual crossing details. Stu volunteered as a line handler on S/V Carumba to experience the canal before our crossing, so finally it is our turn to do the crossing.

By the afternoon we were ready with tyres to act as fenders on the concrete locks and we had everything sorted and organised, time to say the yucky goodbyes to the great friends we had made, old and new on S/V Bonaire, Moody Finn, Kia Ora and more.


S/V Bonaire and Moody fin saying sad goodbyes.


Goodbye to John and Franny, Aussies in Margaret River!

Next was to cross the channel by radioing the port captain to gain permission. Then anchor in the flats, after a short wait the three local line handlers that we had organised arrived via a dinghy with lines and started setting them up. Shortly afterwards the pilot arrived whom we liked straight away and throughly went through the plan. We were crossing with a cargo ship in front of us and no others rafted up next to us, which we were happy with opting to be in the middle of the lock away from the walls. Off we went to the first lock.


Captain Danger.

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 13.27.46Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 13.39.13




There were four line handlers on the edge of the lock on land, that each threw a line to each line handler on Neverland (as seen in the above picture). The rope has to travel a long way so it is weighted with a monkey fist, which is a ball of rope you don’t want to be hit by as some have been known to break windows or solar panels. Then the boats line handler ties a bowline connecting the thrown rope to our rope and the rope is fed back to the lock line handlers on land. They walk along while we motor along, holding the rope for quite a while, we held the ropes on Neverland. When we arrived in the correct position, and the lock gates had closed behind us, then the action started.


I was the fourth line handler. The line was on a bollard cleat on the wall, as the water rushed in with a lot of current and force it was our job to tighten the lines to keep Neverland from hitting the walls and in the centre of the lock.


Apparently the odd croc goes for a ride along in the locks too.


The waters were very turbulent, not a place for anyone to fall in.

The water only took around 15 minutes to fill the lock, then there were another 2 locks to go. The first set of 3 locks were called the Gatun locks. It was dark by the time we exited the locks, our pilot was awesome during this whole process, he was super calm, supportive and eager to help. We had heard many stories of grumpy non helpful pilots, we were lucky to get a great one especially since we were a little nervous.

Next was to tie up to the large yellow buoy around 15 minutes away, I was unsure how we would tie up but the guys had it all done and dusted in a jiffy. I had cooked up a massive dinner with dessert, and the line handlers were very very very happy with their Balboa beer and a tonne of grub. They seemed to appreciate their cabins, I had spent many an hour sorting, cleaning and de moulding to sort out the kids cabins (which were in a trashed state). We really enjoyed having these guys aboard, they were chatty, friendly and very helpful. The next morning there were dead and alive bugs absolutely everywhere in the cockpit! The guys must have noticed this and the next minute at 0600 they were all out there with bucket after bucket of water washing down the decks!!!!! We were absolutely stoked, what a great bunch of guys.



Joel looking pretty relaxed, with the pilot of Day 2 who arrived for breakfast. Feeding these guys was almost a full time job, but they were happy!


Happy to be out of the galley! 


Gold Hill of the Culebra Cut in the background.  Gold Hill is to the left of Centennial Bridge, both were impressive. It was said an overseer of the canal construction planted gold there to encourage the workers to dig harder!


These huge ships were a common sight.



Tug boat


Famous large floating crane called Titan (aka Herman the German), it’s claimed to be the worlds biggest floating crane in operation.

We saw so many massive cargo ships fully loaded with sea containers. We were now on Gutun lake which is 26m above sea level. The construction of the Panama Canal was an amazing engineering feat for its day, taking 56,000 men to construct with 5,600 reportedly killed and the most costly construction by the US to date at $350 million. The canal was completed in 1914 by America who bought the rights of construction from the French in the 1880’s. Yellow fever and Malaria killed thousands of men until the chief sanitary officer (Dr. William Gorgas) who believed mosquitos carried these diseases, embarked on a mission to painstakingly fumigate and cover pools of  still water in oil to stop the mosquito reproducing. The last reported case of Yellow Fever was in 1905 in Panama, and Malaria cases dropped dramatically – what an amazing feat!


The 9 mile Culebra cut was another challenge, where many men died (most workers were shipped from the West Indies) from notorious land slides and the explosions needed to make the canal.  The second commander of this massive project (the first resigned after a year), convinced President Roosevelt that the canal needed to be a lock canal system due to the terrain and landslides, not a sea level canal. The Panama Canal has expanded global trade routes in the 20th century. In 1999 the treaty was recognised and control of the Panama Canal was fully turned over to Panama.


Excited to be entering the last two Miraflores locks, after a long and exciting day of motoring along Gatun lake, the locks and Culebra Cut.


Peeking over the top of Miraflores lock, the last set of locks to the Pacific Ocean!




Raoul, line handler.


Mira Flores locks, notice the platform on the left where there are loads of people watching. There is a camera here too, so our parents watched as we went through the locks!





Fernando, line handler.


On our way down to sea level!


Notice the two mules keeping the ship in place.


Enter the Pacific, Happy Neverland!!!!

Pics above – some pages of Jakes booklet on Panama Canal.

Above pic – Alexs booklet on Panama Canal.

Above pic – Siennas booklet on Panama Canal.

Thanks for reading folks, drop a line if you like.


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