Our transit through the Panama Canal on Black Billy

05-06 August 2017 – 44’ Bruce Roberts
Australians Sean & Lulu, Spanish Sergio
Advisors : Edwin (Security), Rafa (Tugboat Supervisor)

Day One : Gatun locks : Centre chamber solo

So nice that Black Billy was to be at Club Nautico as that meant we only had to call Uber sometime around 10:20. We got caught up in a police check near the bridge on-ramp and then were almost the last ones on the bus at 10:40 but still had to wait while they crammed a few more on. Finally we got going right on 11:00 – maybe that was the scheduled time… haha!

It seemed a quick trip as we were at the Rey by 12:05, but then we got caught in traffic as we made our way to the centre of Colon. We got a taxi fairly quickly and made the circuitous drive to Club Nautico. Lots of roadworks made Colon look even worse than normal.

We sat a little while till Sean saw our text then he rowed out to pick us up! Tito was supposed to be there at 12:00 but he hadn’t turned up at 13:30. Sean went ashore to find him and came back with Sergio who had been whistling at us for a while from shore. Lulu had seen him but was of course looking for Tito!

Rowboat out to the yacht

Sergio has lived in Panama for a long time and knows all the transit and yacht related people. He has also done 25 transits (as he repeatedly told us so I was referring to him as 25) so we had plenty of experience for Sean & Lulu.

We moved around to The Flats and Edwin arrived on time at 15:15, but immediately said we wouldn’t lock up until 18:05. So we had an afternoon of chatting and trying not to think about the beer in the coolers! Russ and Sergio went for a siesta which was probably the best idea, but I enjoyed bombarding Edwin with questions about the Canal and the ACP.

Finally we saw our ship and started to follow him in around 17:30. Sergio had laid the forward lines out in an eight but we changed it to a flake. He actually came up to demand we change it back but I wasn’t having that!

We were in the first chamber at 19:00 where everything went very smoothly, with us up front doing very little while 25 and Lulu hauled frantically on their lines. It all seemed to go quickly and we were done by about 20:10.

Discovery was on one of the buoys but we had the other one to ourselves. Soon we were tied up and enjoying a beer or three. It was well after midnight before we turned in. Interesting having to squeeze through the narrow space into our cabin.

Rather small entrance to the aft cabin

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

Not too bad a night with a powerful fan, and actually yesterday was relatively cool. It didn’t even rain during the night which is a first. Got up just before 07:00 for a bucket shower but as so often happens there was no hurry because the Advisor was not on time. Some howler monkeys were making themselves heard, and there was a nice breeze on deck.

We had a cup of tea and then around 08:00 Rafa turned up, of course demanding we leave immediately and go six knots even though Sean said that might overheat the engine. The plan was to lock down at 12:30 which sounded good to us, although weren’t likely to make it.

Quite amusing as we left the mooring as 25 nearly went in the drink. He was the one that didn’t want to slip the lines last night like we suggested!

Several NeoPanamax were queued up waiting for the Cut to clear. We will never get tired of seeing lots of huge ships clustered on the lake.

Ships waiting on Lake Gatun

It was a beautiful morning with a light breeze from the south which is most unusual. It was noticeable in Gatun Locks last night that the breeze was on the nose. We were under clear skies as we crossed the lake and although there were plenty of clouds lurking they didn’t manage to get organised.

We passed Gamboa and heard that we would lock down at 12:50, tied to Discovery. As we approached Pedro Miguel I heard Rafa say that he wanted a strong guy on the lines so I figured I would stay out of it. I think it is vastly more important to have someone quick and competent, but he is not the first Panamanian to say something like that. Sean later commented that he found Rafa to be a “worry-wart” that was a pain in the arse most of the time. He did like to give lots of instructions, not all of which were necessary or welcome.

We were tying up around 13:00. Discovery has a lone cleat around midships which we had to lasso from the bow. Meanwhile 25 got his stern line on quickly and made fast, which stopped us short of where we needed to be. We sorted that out, then had to move lots of fenders around as the railing was so close to the vertical hull of Discovery. We then had a Panama wait for the car carrier to catch up with us.


At 13:55 we were moving into Miraflores Lake but then it looked like one lane was closed and a big ship was just entering the first chamber so we had to wait for him. So much for finishing early today!

Lulu asked about tidying ropes but we said to wait in case we need them in the lock. Of course 25 decided to start coiling…. anti-bloody-clockwise! For a guy who skippers charter yachts, some of his boat-sense was not too good.

We hung around outside the locks until the Lockmaster said we had to go in to get out of the way of the car carrier. The ship in front of us descended, then the lock had to fill up before we could enter. Finally we were secured to Discovery around 15:30, then it was only about ten minutes till we started going down, and we were clear of the locks by 16:25 with a celebratory Balboa.

An hour later we were walking in our front door, thoroughly cooked, despite it being a relatively cool transit overall.

In the lock with Discovery and a car carrier

ACP linehandlers walking our lines between chambers

Some interesting cargo

Tugs rushing off to meet a big ship