Our transit through the Panama Canal on sailing yacht Pilgrim

03-04 February 2017 – 38’ Morgan 382
US Jonas, Spanish Pablo & Polish Olga
Advisors: Oswaldo – Engineer with Dredging Division, Elver MacMillan (Mac) – Tug Engineer

Day One : Gatun locks : Centre-chamber rafted

We were in an Uber at 9:15 and on the bus by 09:30. We actually left at 09:40 which is what the schedule says, but that was probably just a coincidence! We were in Colon before 11:00 and at the yacht club for a final wee soon after.


There was a guy seated by the gate to the yacht club that would not let us in unless we paid $3. We have no problem with the idea of paying since we get the money from the boat, but we wish they would be consistent! We have been in several times without paying anything.
We messaged Jonas who came over in the dinghy to pick us up. Olga and Pablo were already on board. Always good to have young ones to do the hard work! Polish Olga is on a workaway job but hopes to sail to Australia, and Pablo is teaching Jonas Spanish in exchange for some sailing, then he will return to Costa Rica for university – he joined through couchsurfing. Jonas is another single-hander who has circumnavigated, and he is good mates with Michael from last week’s transit on Shayler.
Jonas decided to head over to The Flats early so we were anchored there by 12:35 and sorting the boat out. Pablo made a great lunch and then we waited as usual. 15:00 was the time given to be at The Flats.

Russ taking us off the anchor

The Rainbow Warrior III was anchored out by the breakwater – wonder what they are up to? Arctic was there as well.

Rainbow Warrior III

Jonas mentioned at one point that he doesn’t drink, then later was proud to announce that he had four cans of beer in the fridge! Quite a sacrifice for a small yacht fridge but not quite what we hope for!

NeoPanamax ships in the new Agua Clara locks

The young ones went for a snooze while we talked Trump during the wait. Oswaldo arrived at 15:15 but said our lockage was not till 17:00. He is an engineer with the dredging division. We chatted a while then around 16:00 we headed to the locks with the catamaran we were to tie up to.

Lots of traffic around Gatun Locks entrance

Rafting up was a bit of a cluster as the cat had lines in the wrong place and most of them didn’t speak English to get it sorted. We moved into the locks and got the lines ok. Russ took the headline and Olga took over my stern line since she wants the practice for future transits.
Russ had to shout at the girl on the cat as she was tying the heaving line to the blue rope without leading it under the railings! Would have thought the Advisor should be watching for that sort of thing. We got a bit close to the wall at one point but mostly the Portuguese were so enthusiastically hauling on their lines that we were safe!
90 minutes to get through as always, so we were on the lake by 18:15. Still light which was a nice change. Shame we didn’t have a good drinking crew!
Oswaldo commented that the seamanship on the cat was not the best, but then he and the other Advisor set up a very strange connection to the buoy. Jonas seemed happy with it so we stayed out of it.
Pablo did produce nice cold beers once we had moored to the buoy, but there were only four of them! We were rolling a lot and the flashing light on the buoy was ridiculously bright. Without lots to drink, the night was already not appealing.
We had a second beer just before Pablo produced a nice Sancocho, but after dinner we chatted a while then drifted off to bed at 21:35.
We had the forepeak as arranged but with no door there was not the privacy that we prefer. It was the usual gymnastics to clamber up onto the bunk and get turned around, which neither of us find easy anymore. Luckily we had our inflatable pillows as there was no real bedding to speak of. The fan proved far too noisy, and while we had the hatch open we had to close it numerous times when it rained through the night. All in all another perfect reminder of why we do not live on a yacht!

Day Two : Miraflores & Pedro Miguel locks : Centre Chamber Rafted

We got up before 07:00 so we could have a bucket shower on deck. We’d been told 06:30 for the Advisor but as always it was a wait to 07:35. Mac joined us and immediately started talking as you’d expect. We got underway and heard the locks would be ready at 11:45. Quite windy so we had a rueful discussion about how much faster we’d go with a sail up! Some cloud around was nice for much of the morning, but as always it was hard to find a comfortable spot to settle into. Sailors must have buns of steel!
We were thinking we had a rough night but poor Jonas had retired to sleep in the cockpit, but the rain drove him below where he jury rugged a pile of cushions on the floor and had an uncomfortable night himself. Must be so hard for a single-hander to share his home with four strangers.
The trip across the lake was long and slow as always. Jonas had Mac to keep him entertained, who as usual was talking almost constantly. The rest of us moved up onto the foredeck.
Saw a huge croc in the Cut, and several iguanas stunning themselves on the banks. During the morning we heard lots of howler monkeys and a couple of toucans.

Iguana in the sun

This is why we don’t swim in Lake Gatun!

We finally got to Pedro Miguel around 12:30 where there was lots of discussion about how we would do the lockage. We slowly moved into the lock and tied up centre chamber with the catamaran from yesterday. The cat was not following instructions so while it was a slow manoeuvre, it was not totally in control. A car carrier was behind us, but the tourist boat went in the other lane so at least we didn’t have to worry about them.
The cat people set up lunch with a bottle of vodka. Meanwhile Russ pointed out the birds nest on their cleat so Mac got them to sort it out.
One of the cushions protecting a solar panel blew overboard so that was fun to watch as it somehow drifted back towards us. Luckily when the gates opened, the water pushed it close enough that we could grab it. Jonas of course ran over to help but I told him to get back and drive!
Moving on to Miraflores we had issues again with tying up, mostly because Mac and the other Advisor were yelling conflicting instructions, and Russell was not sure who was talking to him. Even while motoring across the lake Rafa on the cat was giving some very strange orders, and it was not helpful to have Mac explaining to us why Rafa was doing it wrong.

Two yachts rafted in centre lock

We made it through Miraflores Locks with no damages, albeit a bit of yelling. I did the last line and was also told to pull-in / let-go / make-fast all at once, with Jonas offering additional advice to “watch the lines”.

Two car carriers in the locks

Guess somebody hit the gate!

At 14:45 we were in the Pacific, and fantasizing about falling in our pool. The sun was out for the middle few hours and we were absolutely baking.
At Balboa Yacht Club we found the launch and quickly offloaded the tires, some garbage and three very overheated linehandlers. 14:45 is about the earliest finish we have had. Straight to the pool!