What Goes Wrong?
There are some common problems that occur during a transit, but many of them are avoidable:
- Not listening to the Advisor: The problems are not really numbered but if they were, this would be number one. Some of his instructions may seem strange, but he has the local knowledge of conditions in the Canal and the locks.
- Captain getting distracted: Perhaps if an inexperienced crew member is not sure how to use a winch or secure a line. Make sure everyone knows, because the Captain needs to concentrate on the helm and throttle.
- Difficult knots: The shoremen have to undo the heaving line knot with one hand, so make sure everyone ties a simple and recognisable knot. A clove hitch or bowline is fine.
- Tangles: Make sure everyone keeps the shore lines ready to run free. This applies to mooring lines to other yachts, which can sometimes happen suddenly.
- Getting spun around in the lock: This happens very easily when locking down due to currents and winds. Keep your yacht straight in the lock, and listen to the Advisor!
- Contacting the walls: Sometimes unavoidable. Plenty of fenders and not the human variety! This is more likely when you are part of a raft and not all Captains and Advisors are communicating properly. Listen to the lead Advisor!
- Tugboat or Tourist boat issues: These guys are often impatient so be aware of what they are doing in case they move off before you are ready
- Rigging contacting other yacht: Make sure when you tie up to a raft that mast spreaders are not aligned, this is so they won’t contact each other when the boats roll
- Panama Canal Maritime Regulations: The Canal Advisor will advise you of Canal specific regulations
The strong currents are caused by 26 million gallons of fresh water being suddenly released into salt water. which causes an initial 2-4 knot current heading out of the locks. At the southern end this is compounded by prevailing northerly breezes so everything is behind you.
In general the Captain should concentrate on keeping the boat straight, using engine power more than relying on steering. One Advisor commented “you are better to touch the wall under control rather than get spun around in the currents”.
If things get out of control the Canal Advisor is able to call the Lockmaster and ask for the filling or emptying to be stopped.
If you really want to frighten yourself, have a look at broken boat, although you might want to save this for after you successfully complete the transit.