Our transit through the Panama Canal on B3112

09-10 August 2019 – 45’ Leopard Catamaran

Australian Noel, US Bobbi, Panamanian Ricky

Advisors: Catarine – Trainee Pilot, Edward – Security boats, Ricardo – Hydrographic

Day One : Gatun locks : Rafted with 55’ yacht

After rounding up the cats and collecting Laura’s lamingtons, we headed to the bus station in an Uber, and were on the bus by 10:15 waiting for it to fill up, MP3 players firmly in place. We finally left the station at 10:40, and were at Cuatro Altos by 11:50 which was a quick trip.

Got straight into a taxi and the driver was quite excited about going over the new bridge that only opened on the 2nd of August, a week ago. The bridge is really impressive with a long slope to climb over the top, but as soon as the new approach roads came to an end were “back to reality” as the driver said. The potholes have been getting ever bigger, and there are now some that almost cross the road, and are of unknown depth as they are filled with water.

We got to Shelter Bay with plenty of time to spare, and were soon on the boat with Noel, Bobbi and Ricky. Interesting that the restaurant was quite busy, and the manager said that as soon as the bridge opened the restaurant was overrun. Not surprising since there is very little else on that side of the Canal!

Moorings B3112 waiting at Shelter Bay

The brand new Leopard catamaran still had all the plastic on the seats as usual, and this time they had 11 sails lying around and a cabin full of various spares for the base in Tahiti. Nice looking interior although Noel said a lot of things were done on the cheap which quickly cause problems. Great to have USB ports everywhere, and we could feel that they had airconditioning running, mostly because there was not a single fan in the saloon which makes cooking rather torturous.

11 sails and other stuff being delivered to Tahiti

Noel had been told that the Advisor would join at 13:30, so he called at 12:45 to confirm, and was told to make his way out to the Flats, and that the Advisor would be there “in the afternoon”. We duly headed out of the marina and anchored, but when Noel called to say we were in place, the instruction was now that the Advisor was scheduled for 17:15. We settled in for some chatting, snoozing and waiting.

Just before 17:00 we had a cup of tea and a lamington, but then it was more waiting until the crewboat finally pulled up at 18:20. Catarine is a trainee Pilot, one of four women in the system, two of whom are Piloting now. She didn’t look old enough but told us she had done more than eight years at sea. We also had Edward from the Security boats, who was there to look after the trainee.

Advisors finally arriving five hours later than originally hoped

We now passed under the new Atlantic Bridge and admired the spectacular lighting. Red, White and Blue lights covered the superstructure and the stripes moved along the bridge, stopping to look suspiciously like the French flag (the French had a lot to do with building it).

The new Atlantic Bridge

The plan at that stage was to be in the locks at 19:30 but it was 20:15 before we were rafted up with a beautiful Discovery 55’ yacht, with a British family on board. That was a big heavy boat so they were lead vessel and we just had our two lines to tend, Ricky at the front and Russell on the stern.

Around 20:35 we were in Gatun Locks behind the big ship, and the doors were closing on the Caribbean. Our impatience got the better of us then and we had a sneaky beer before things got started. The most frustrating thing about doing a transit is the waiting for things that so rarely happen on time.

The process felt very slow this time, but we were out of the locks by 22:00 which is about normal. Straight to the mooring buoys and we were tied up by 10:25. Ricky did the jump to the buoy where he set up the same dodgy method with the ropes that saw us fall off last time, but we had the lines from the other yacht to hold ours in place.

Of course it was then beer time, but we only kept going to midnight. The cabin was very nice, and we were just setting up fans and opening hatches when Bobbi knocked on the door with the extremely welcome message that Noel was turning on the airconditioning. Bliss!!

Day Two : Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks : Rafted with 55’ yacht

We slept much better in the aircon, but the bright sun woke us up early anyway. As we figured the aircon would go off as soon as we emerged, we stayed put until about 07:30. We only had a vague comment about how the Advisor is normally at the boat by 08:00, but there is no rush in the morning when we have a paid linehandler to help the skipper and no one else really needs to be up.

The Advisors arrived about 08:25 so one of the kids next door had time for a swim, despite our comments about crocodiles. It is certainly very tempting, especially after the usual night with no aircon which fortunately we didn’t have to suffer this time.

Ricardo works in Hydrographics and was a nice guy to have on board. Very chatty and informative which Noel and Bobbi certainly like. Pretty sure he is the same guy we had on that awful French catamaran, and he remembered us but for some reason not that sequence of screw-ups.

It was very hot on the lake with no breeze at all, so we were chasing the shade and drinking lots of water. We got to Gamboa around 11:40 and at that stage we were scheduled for 13:00 in Pedro Miguel. Unfortunately a NeoPanamax was coming north at about that time, and in the spirit of the mouse and the elephant story, the Pilot did not want us to be in the Culebra Cut with them. We tied up to a buoy and waited for him to pass.

Waiting for a Panamax to clear Culebra Cut

Bobbi was in the saloon preparing the traditional Babooti for lunch, and she was suffering so much in the heat that Noel put on the aircon for her. We had some entertainment watching some tugs test their fire monitors, but otherwise it was just another long wait.

Testing fire monitors

About 12:45 the Neo had gone past, and our lock buddy appeared so we set off with him. Around 13:50 we caught up with the other yacht and rafted up to go into Pedro Miguel lock together and wait for the big one. We moved to Miraflores still in the raft, and were starting to descend around 15:30.

Our lock buddy

Everything went extremely smoothly in all the locks, and we were settled in the second chamber in time to watch the current of at least five knots pushed ahead of the big ship. A couple of lockmaster herons around, and some pelicans waiting for some fish.

Quite fun to dial up the webcam on the phone and watch it all on the internet, while friends ashore were sending comments.

It was around this time that it dawned on all of us just how easy the whole transit had been. So nice to have a competent Captain on the boat we were rafted up with who listened to instructions and knew his boat. The common denominator for the problems we have had on any transit is the French skipper in the raft.

At 16:05 the doors were open to the Pacific and we made our way to Balboa Yacht Club. Settled onto the mooring buoy and opened some more beers.

Shelter Bay Marina
NeoPanamax LPG tanker in Agua Clara locks
NeoPanamax clearing the Pacific Access Channel
Linehandlers throwing the lines
Pelicans looking for fish
Bridge of the Americas means we are almost home
Balboa Yacht Club awaits