Our transit through the Panama Canal on sailing yacht FantaSea

13-14 July 2016 – 40’ Leopard Catamaran
Aussie Noel & US Bobby, Panamanian Ricky
Advisors: Amado – Launch Supervisor, Edward – Tug Captain

Day One : Gatun locks

We were up early having set an alarm but then we heard from Noel who said we only had to be at Shelter Bay by 13:00. We left home about 09:15, and a taxi got us to Albrook in time to catch the 09:40 express bus, which actually left at 10:05. The internet said there is a bus leaving every half hour and the express at 09:40, although leaving late kind of defeats the purpose of an express bus! It looked like they were waiting for it to be full but they let several people climb on only to realise there were no seats and get off again. Eventually a man with a clipboard came by and we were off. It was cold on the bus with a loud kung-fu movie playing but not as bad as our trip back from Santa Catalina. It was 1h15m to the Rey supermarket where we caught a taxi to Shelter Bay. We had to wait at the ferry but not for too long. The road is still full of potholes and at one point we had to go off-road. The French bridge doesn’t look like it has progressed much since we last saw it.

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FantaSea at Shelter Bay Marina

We were at the boat by 12:15 where Noel and Bobby said we were to be at the Flats by 13:00. Ricky soon arrived and we headed over there, but there were dredgers working and we were told to go away, and that the Advisor would arrive at 17:00.
We climbed on board and started to chat with Noel and Bobby. They deliver yachts around the world for Sunsail and others, and the Leopard 404 is going from Tortola to Tahiti. It is literally brand new with plastic on the chairs, and a beautiful big yacht. It doesn’t even have an official name although the papers say it will be called FantaSea. Of course they have done the Canal a few times, and they had lots of good stories.

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So much space!

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Plastic still on the seats

For all that I watched Noel carefully tidy the lines… by coiling them anti-clockwise! It defies belief how so many experienced yachties have no idea about how to coil ropes so they won’t tangle.
We anchored to wait, but had to move a few times as the holding was lousy. Around 15:30 we were joined by an 80-foot cat, and we both got Advisors straight away. Amado is a Launch Foreman who looks after 150 boat drivers.
At 16:15 we picked up the anchor and started heading in. There was a big ship in the new locks which took ages to come down. Amado said they take about three hours. It certainly looked like a massive container ship at 1100 feet.
The big Red Cat was supposed to go in the lock with us but then at the last minute he decided he wanted to go alone so we were told to turn back. Luckily we were able to join the ship in the east lane so were not delayed much. Seems the Pilot on the cat over-ruled everybody as they apparently do – any boat over 65 feet has to have a proper Pilot rather than an Advisor and they often cause problems.

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The big Red Cat

Our centre chamber lockage all went very smoothly and we were on the lake in less than 90 minutes. We saw a huge crocodile in the approach to the lock, which reminded us not to swim in the lake.

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Huge crocodile in the approach to Gatun Locks

We tied up to the buoy then were watching the cat move all over the place before anchoring, which was odd – their Pilot had jumped off already and our Advisor said it was another common trick of Pilots. Of course we were mocking them but then when we were on to about our third beer Ricky pointed out that our lines had come off the mooring! We sorted that out then got on with demolishing a lot of beers! At 02:00 Noel was still wanting to open more!

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A Neo-Panamax coming out of the new locks at Agua Clara

Day Two : Miraflores & Pedro Miguel locks

It was an incredibly hot night with only the small fans providing any breeze. So pleased we had our battery fan with us. I didn’t sleep particularly well and the Advisor arriving just after 07:00 was way too early.
We had Edward the Tug Captain again, who remembered the awful catamaran we took through last year. He was telling me that the ACP hope to start dredging the Banana Cut soon – he works in the dredging division and has been quiet recently so he is looking forward to getting busy again.
It was clear and sunny early in the day but fortunately some cloud moved in to stop it getting too hot. At least on such a big cat there is plenty of seating in the shade.
We made good time and were at Pedro Miguel well before 12:00 but then the Red Cat turned up and our plans went out the window. The Pilot on there still refused to raft up and then he was able to pull rank and go in the lockage ahead of us. We actually had to tie up in the lock approach and wait for the second big ship to turn up. Edward was very frustrated but wasn’t able to get anyone to back him in pointing out that Red Cat had agreed in the paperwork to raft. It was telling that there was no radio chatter, so Edward reckoned the Pilot had phoned the Lockmaster who is an ex-Pilot himself. However it happened we had to sit and wait, and we didn’t go in the lock until 14:30.

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Big ship in Miraflores

Bobby produced babooti for lunch, which was excellent. She was getting nervous as Edward described the potential for another night on the lake as they only provisioned for two days, with the big shop planned for Panama City before they head to Tahiti. Amazing that they will do the month trip with just the two of them on four-hour watches. Sod that!
We were in the Pacific by about 16:45 and enjoying a celebratory beer. Seems the four of us finished two slabs of Balboa last night so there were only a few left. Noel commented that when Russell wrote saying we only needed cold Balboa he knew we were the right crew, and Bobby said it was unusual for Noel to stay up late! Maybe we will get more trips through the agency that they do deliveries for. Be good to get another comfortable boat, that is for sure.
A Yacht Club launch came out to us with the agent on board so we managed to get a ride back in with them. The price per person was given as $3 which is a new amount, and significantly better than the $25 we were asked for recently. Noel asked for a mooring and was told that all of the club moorings had been taken out because of the Canal expansion and there were now only owner’s moorings. Some more discussion and then suddenly a mooring became available. Not sure how that worked.
We were off the boat by about 17:30 for the quick walk home.