Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Continuing Through the Panama Canal

The black boat is us as we are passing through Gatun Lake
Morning came very early on the second day of our Panama Canal transit. Around 0600 another Advisor was delivered to the boat. Santiago came aboard and began preparing us for the day's adventure through the last two sets of locks. First we had to free ourselves from the overnight rafting and then proceed across Gatun Lake to the channel. There used to be a bypass, but it is no longer in use. The rest of the passage should take about five hours.Of course, we were to serve him a hot breakfast so out came the French toast menu. Then I served a mid-morning croissant filled with chocolate. That was a hit!

Herman the German has been renamed Titan
As we motored through the lake, Santiago pointed out the new canal construction sites, areas where they were "planting" explosives to widen the canal, and even the largest movable crane in the world: Herman the German. This crane was one of the spoils of WWII and has been used in the Panama Canal for many years. They claim the Canal expansion will be done soon, but we don't think so! There is still a lot of digging to do before they can create the concrete walls.

Explosives are "planted" in the PVC pipes
There is a lot of work being done to modify the existing parts of the Canal as well as the new locks being built to handle wider ships. In the past, ships have been built to the dimensions of the Canal. Now bigger ships are in demand and they need to be accommodated in the new wider locks. There are places in the passage where two ships cannot pass one another so that is being widened, too.

Our fleet of boats passed through the lake individually for several hours before rejoining our nesting groups. Once we gathered at the lock approach, we once again had to raft up while motoring at six knots. We successfully joined the other two boats and began our journey through the Pedro Miguel Locks.

Santiago with Bob from Vivo and Peter working the stearn.
When the fleet of 14 had all come into the chamber, the monkey fists were once again tossed on to the boats and the messenger lines attached. Our crew took up the slack to hold us firmly in position. Then the gates closed and the water was lowered. This time we had to pay out our lines as this is a downward lockage. It is supposed to be a more peaceful experience than the Gatun Locks.
This time Todd and Bob from Vivo came on board to assist with the lines since once again the current was on our side pushing us to the port.

Ron and Todd worked the foredeck.
However, we seemed to be the nest that needed more excitement than the others, so once again we had an exhibition of what not to have happen during a transit! Granted,  we were all on our toes ready to make sure everything went smoothly on the second day. Once again the ACP guys on the mainland screwed up! This time they failed to communicate with one another across the Canal and did not properly align the tie ups. We went diagonally in the chamber again. 

The Bridge of the Americas
Unfortunately for Avocet, the current was on our side and was pushing them against the wall again. Mike on Vivo and Dennis were following the Advisors' orders trying to keep them from harms way by using the engines in forward and reverse. There was a little gel coat damage. We were not too impressed with the attention the guys on land were giving to the situation. Everyone in front and behind us was trying to figure out what was happening. After some more shouting in Spanish and a lot of arm waving on land and engine maneuvering in the boats, we managed to get squared enough to move forward through the lock and were lowered down.

Why does it always feel like your mast is not going to
make it under the bridge as you approach one?
We continued to stay rafted or nested as we moved on to the next and final set of locks, through the Miraflores Lake and into the Miraflores Locks. This is the final lowering to the level of the Pacific Ocean. This lower chamber is the highest in the system, a requirement due to the extreme tidal variation in the Pacific Ocean. This will be our first time dealing with extreme tidal changes. There is also a strong current from behind in these locks so now we have to use reverse to control our progress.
Welcome to Panama City!

Once the final gate opened, we had to travel another 2.5 miles to the anchorage near La Playita Marina. Seeing the Bridge of the Americas ahead was a welcome site as we entered the Pacific Ocean. On the port side was the beautiful skyline of Panama City. Dennis and I looked at each other as said, "Well, we did it! We are now in the Pacific with another 29,000 mile to go!" Go West, young man, go west!

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