Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Into the Caribbean Sea

2200, 11 Mar 12, Still anchored at the Playita Anchorage

We really have had some time to relax, sort of.  In between shopping trips we have taken the time to visit the Miraflores lock exhibit and actually see the locks we will be transiting on Saturday. The exhibit is like a museum of the history and function of the Panama Canal and it proved to be quite interesting. We saw a trio of sailboats and a large freighter go through their last lock on their way to the Pacific. The same day we went to the old quarter of Panama, which is also the part of town where most of the embassies are. There is a real push here to rebuild the old buildings to preserve the ambiance of the area. There is another Panama Canal museum here and it had a Gaugin exhibit with some of his actual works.
Miraflores lock from the observation deck

Other than that we have been preparing for our transit. All of the boats we know that have gone through have taken 2 days to get to the other side. Every boat, so far, has had a mid-morning departure with a stop in Gatun Lake for the night and completing the last lock the following day. It isn’t a real hardship but it means that the crew we will have assisting us with lines will be staying onboard for Saturday night. We will have Ron and Heather from Sun dancer and Michael from Epiphany crewing for us. The one advantage is that we’ll be able to have a good night with our crew in a quiet and peaceful setting and in a fresh water lake, with crocodiles we have been told….

Optical Illusion on their way to the Canal

We’ll be among the last of our group to go through. Most of the others will be crossing this week. Since we did not use the services of an agent we have to organize our own lines and fenders. The fenders are really just tires wrapped in plastic bags and hung over the side as fenders. We have 18 tires, double bagged and ready to be deployed.  We have arranged for a set of lines through Roger, a taxi driver who provides this service and the transport back for the crew. We will get our lines delivered on Friday morning. Soooo, all is more or less ready.  The lines are to be used to hold the vessel steady in the locks so that they don’t hit the sides of the canal as the water floods in or empties out, hence the requirement to have a crew of line-handlers to man each of the lines during the locking process.

Wednesday, 14 Mar, 13, Same old, same old….

Things are progressing, albeit, at a slow pace this week. Everything is in place for our Saturday transit. We have crew, are tires are rigged, tomorrow the lines will be delivered and we will get our transit time, meals are planned for the transit and we are psyched.

We did have one exciting event this week. Ray and Jerry Stacey came through the Canal yesterday on the Island Princess, a cruise ship. We had been planning for some time to meet them somewhere along the canal but after considering all the angles and the “miss” possibilities we had decided to delay our transit just long enough to see them as they exited the system here on the Pacific side. We had some pretty handy resources to assist us including the lock webcams and an AIS app for the I-Pad. AIS is a system that uses special location transponders (most ships have them now)that send a signal to shore stations so that ships can be located anywhere in the world. We were able to see their ship’s progress as it transited the Canal and saw her as she entered the last the last Miraflores lock. We then set off from our anchorage and motored up the channel to meet them. Everything after that seemed anti-climactic. We turned south with our sails up to parallel their course and stared into the sun trying to locate them on this massive ship. It took a while but there they were waving as frantically as we were. (you had to be there….) Ray and I had a few word on the VHF radio (yes, he brought his portable) and they were gone. Mission accomplished.

Island Princess. Ray and Gerry are top left near that black thingy

22:20, Monday, 18 mar 13, Alongside, Shelter Bay Marina

We have been here at the marina for the last few days after crossing through the canal to the Caribbean.

The crossing was everything we had hoped, simple, uneventful and exciting. We left the anchorage with Mangareva and Rio Nimpkish at 7AM after picking up our crew for the crossing. We had acquired the special 125 ft lines the previous afternoon 5 hours late. On Gosling, Fran was driving and JG, Heather , Ron and Michael designated as line-handles.

The first order of business was to pick up the advisor who would act as pilot to guide us through the waterway. Ours was Gabriel, a large tug captain during the week and an advisor on weekends. Once he was aboard we madeour way up the famous waterway to the first of the locks, the Miraflores locks. Gabriel was quite pleased when he received instructions to get us in early so that we could transit the entire system on the same day. This was only the 2nd time he had done this in 17 years of working as an advisor. We must have been Special….

The routine was that the other 2 boats would tie up on each side of Gosling, being the biggest of the three and with the more powerful engine, and then transit each of the locks as a nested group. This meant that only the outside boats would be handling lines on their respective sides, which also meant that our crew and half of each of the other two boats’ lines and crews were surplus. Too bad we hadn’t known before but Canal policy is that each boat must be prepared for the worst possible case.

The entire operation went off as smooth as silk. We were inside these huge 980ft long locks with only a small passenger tour boat for most of the locks and, on Gosling, we had very little to do except drive the group from lock to lock. After the 2 Miraflores locks and the Pedro Miguel lock we had a 35 mile run through the canal and Gatun Lake. We made it to the last locks at Gatun with a half hour to spare. By just after 4PM we were kissing the waters of the Caribbean Sea in rain showers and a 15-20 knot wind.  

Nested up and ready to enter the lock
Recieving the bolo from the dock hands


Doors closing. Notice the appropriate t-shirt....
Thanks Value Village.

Miraflores to Pedro Miguel. Crew relaxing

Busy Canal with ship traffic and dredges to stbd

Into the Caribbean

In the last lock we had a bit of excitement. The passenger tour boat that had been with us in all the locks, suddenly slewed to starboard and ended up sideways in the lock, almost touching both sides. It later appeared that he had lost one of his engines.


We had expected to stay in Gatun Lake overnight, as had all of the preceding boats had, so we had prepared a good supper and lots of libation to celebrate. We made up for that by anchoring in a designated small boat anchorage area called “the flats” close to the port of Colon for then night.

The next morning we motored to the marina, again in rain and windy conditions. Once tied up it was time to celebrate again. Did I mention that we are low on beer….

Well, all that excitement was 2 days ago and now we are ready to leave the marina for the San Blas Islands. We have had a nice 2 days here but it is time to go. Gosling has had her first fresh water wash since Marina Papagayo, we are watered up and we have a new (to us) main anchor, a 60 lb CQR. We will be back in just over 3 weeks to put Gosling in storage for the summer. Optical Illusion is already there and Warren Peace and Rio Nimpkish will soon be following. Both are going sight-seeing into the Chagres River for as few days. The wind and rain is supposed to be abating over the next few days so this is the time to go.

We will be in an area where WIFI signals will be doubtful so it might be a while before the next entry.


  1. We got a nice photo of you off Panama, not quite as spectacular as yours of the Island Princess though. Glad the trip through the canal went smoothly. Enjoy your time this year in the Caribbean. See you soon.

    Ray & Gerry

  2. Hey guys, good stuff call soon. I think you tried when I had a busy week. love you. Chris