Saturday, August 21, 2010


The Panama Canal is a lock-type canal, approximately 80 kilometers long, that unites the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at one of the narrowest points of both the Isthmus of Panama and the American Continent. The Canal officially opened its doors to international trade on August 15, 1914, and since then, more than 970,000 vessels have transited the waterway.
It is estimated that the one-million transit figure will be reached by October 2010.

The Canal's three locks, each of which has two lanes, operate as water lifts to elevate ships 26 meters above sea level to the level of Gatun Lake in their transit through the Continental Divide, and then lower them back to sea level on the opposite side of the Isthmus.

During these lockages, which use water obtained from Gatun Lake, the miter gates seal the locks chambers and gravity drains the water to the lower levels. Approximately 197 million liters of fresh water are used for each lockage and ultimately flushed into the sea.

Each set of locks features a Control House on the center wall of its upper chamber, from which this entire operation is directed.

Though vessels use their own propulsion for the greater part of their Panama Canal transit, when passing through the locks they are assisted by electric locomotives. Working in pairs, locomotives keep the vessels in position within the locks chambers. Depending on its size, a vessel can require assistance from four to eight locomotives.

The 12.6 Km Culebra or Gaillard Cut is the narrowest stretch in the Panama Canal. It crosses the Continental Divide and represents 15 percent of the waterway's total length. Up to 63 pyramids similar to those in Egypt could have been erected with the material excavated during its construction.

More about the Panama Canal

Arriving in Colon, big ships outside the breakwater on anchor.

Glenda going artistic on a windless day.

Helena anchored in commercial harbor.

The harbor of colon is full of big merchant ships.

Big car boat in Colon.

Our neighbor from s/v Amistad Clifford A. Vaughs, this man is the maker of the bikes in the movie easy rider.

The wonderful crew for Helena, Tom and Rose (the line handlers) from s/v Sojourn, Glenda (the cook and assistant), Pam (line handler) from s/v Songbird, and the captain Eddy.

Helena ready with tyres.

Harbor of Colon has many ships waiting on anchor.

The skipper making bacon and eggs for the crew.

The adviser Victor is on board and we go.

In the GATUN LOCKS two ships in the locks going up.

The captain has thrust in his crew and is confident.

After this ship we will go.

Following the big one, Pam making ready the ropes.

To this tug we tie up.

Helena Tied to the tug.

The water is going to rise.

When the water rises, a lot of turbulence.

Our position in the Gatun locks on my laptop.

We made cover on the solar panels for the monkey fist which the trow, it was not nessesary.

Last lock and it is getting dark.

On this mooring we stayed in the night.

Next morning new adviser Moises coming on board.

In the canal.

Drilling holes and blasting to improve the canal.

Dredging going on, to deepen or widen the canal.

One of the biggest floating cranes in the world, used to change doors in the locks.

Some passing traffic in the canal.

Tom and Rose in a romantic pose, behind gold hill, they give this name to the hill, because the bosses said there was gold deep inside, so the workers digged harder, to find the gold.

Centennial bridge, open since 2005.

My love and Me.

Car boat passing.

Passing Centennial bridge.

Going into the Pedro Miguel locks, the tourist boat is waiting for us.

The whole crew on a pose. Thank you very much to our crew!!!

Tied up to a tourist boat in pedro miguel lock.

Water going down, no turbulence.

Helena going to tourist boat, photo made with fixed camera from the locks.

Helena alongside.

Tieing to the same tourist boat in Miraflores lock, now on my starboard site.

Back view in the Miraflores lock.

Gates go open.

Letting the tourist boat go first.

The bridge of Americas, the Pacific is waiting.

The job is done adviser moises can go home.

Also on this side of Panama big ships.

under the bridge of Americas.

Mexican 3 master to welkom us in the pacific.


To all who wants to read this,

Its three a clock in the morning of 12 august, and I can't sleep anymore, we went early to bed after a hard day's work, and there is also a little stress involved I think, we are anchored now in "the flats" and in a few hours we will be measured, I give you my experiences until now.

After we sailed from Portobelo we anchored at the club nautical, BEFORE going in to town they want to make a copy of all your permits and boat papers, and you pay 5us a day to use the dinghy dock. This entire club is Latin style, and the best days are way in the past.

You can walk to the Colon 2000 mall, there's a nice supermarket, super 99, and come back with taxi, 1us, all the taxi fares within colon are 1 us, but about 90 percent of the taxi drivers try to take more money from you.

We made already two trips to this supermarket and bought for a lot of money on food. If you ask the manager, the pack it in boxes and bring it to your dinghy for free, ask BEFORE. servicio a domicilio.

Yesterday morning we went for the admeasurements office, we (that’s me, Glenda and a French captain) take a taxi and explained him where we wanted to go, the French captain had a pilot, and we gave the address, the young taxi driver was confused, and calls friend on the radio, cb radio I think, And he brings us to the Gatun locks, after we warned him several times, that we taught he was on the wrong track, no but his friend worked there and knows it all.

He stops at some offices, and I send Glenda to ask if we where good, while I stayed in the taxi, off course we where wrong, so the man at the Gatun locks, explains on the taxi driver where he has to go, so we go all the way back to colon, and now he brings us to the place where we passed 1 hour before, I gave him a buck and he was lucky the French guy did too, the taxi driver bit his teeth.

The lady on this gate wrote down for me the address, PUERTO DE CRISTOBAL, COLON, CALLE 12 Y AVENIDA DEL FRENTE, TORRE A.C.P.

Here you stand now on a gate from the industrial harbour, the will write your passport names in a register, and will be searched for weapons, then you will be transported with a small bus, to the TORRE A.C.P. which is a 2 minute drive, the bus drops you off at the gate , and opposite this gate you have a bell, rings this bell, and they open the gate automatically, go to the garage under the tower, and take the elevator to the first level, when you come out the elevator, the office is on the right hand side.

Very friendly, and English speaking people, they want a copy from you registration, and crew list, not the line handlers, nada mas, they give you a date, normally next day, time, and where you have to be (flats), with your boat, lines, horn, for measurement and inspection.

The Position of this TORRE 009deg21,32min north, 079deg54,90west, look at your c-map, its at the end of the breakwater, the vhf call sign for this A.C.P. TORRE is, CRISTOBAL SIGNAL STATION, it is close to the flats, and they can see, when you are on anchor. they are monitoring vhf channel 12, and when passing this breakwater every boat has to make clear his intensions, and, or ask permission, to them.

Yesterday at 17h00 we left anchor to go to the flats, a 35 min passage between all the big boats on anchor the bay, You have to call BALBOA SIGNAL STATION when you are in sight of the breakwater, I did not do, so when I called them to say I was on anchor in the flats, they said that they called me, but I did not answer, I said I was on 16, here it is 12 they told me, but they where friendly and did not give me a hard time. The anchorage is big, wit some smaller cargo ships, but anyhow I put my anchor light in the mast at night, which I rarely do because I have light on the afterdeck of the boat. Because of the passing ships the night was a bit rolly, but I had much worse in the past, sleep well.

Second day, we waited until 10h00 hours for the admeasure who would come at 08h30, for the Caribbean, not bad, the inspection and the paperwork takes 20-25 minutes, the man gives you the paper to go and pay on the bank, as soon as he was gone we lifted anchor, asked permission on BALBOA SIGNAL STATION, and went back to Club Nautical, this takes about 45 minutes, includes the anchoring, We quickly made ready because official things close early around here. We take our French friend with us who was just arriving and take a cab to the CITYBANK, I found out that this bank and the oficina de maritima (zarpa), and the gates to go to the admeasurements office are like with in 200 meters of each other, and there is also a brand new restaurant, where we could eat, lot of workers from the docks eat there too.

In the bank I find out that I had not enough money with me, They want the FULL PAYMENT, in IN GOD WE TRUST, THE OTHERS CASH notes, I was told that the buffer (bound) could be paid with credit card, well that was in the past, luckily there is a HBSC bank very close so I take the rest of the money there, and paid the 1500usd, the paper says 609us passage and 891us buffer, the buffer you get back when everything goes well, this comes by check, so my sister in Belgium is maybe going to receive a check of 891 dollars.

Because we where in the neighbourhood we did the zarpa at the same time, Three offices and a lot of copies later, and 13,5 us lighter, we had the zarpa from Cristobal (colon) to Balboa (panama city), remember take copies from your crew list, passports and registration with you, you save money !!!!

Third day, just now I went a shore the call the scheduler, yesterday evening the French captain went (in the guttering rain), but the confirmation of the payment was not there so he has to call back, this morning at 7h00 it did not rain for a short time, so I called and ask for Monday morning 16 august, ok, but I have to call back when my line handlers are on board and I leave for the flats.

The passing.

My crew, Line handlers, Tom and Rose from s/v Sojourn and Pam from s/v Songbird, came on board at 10h00 Sunday morning, this was a little bit earlier then expected, I scheduled my passage for Monday morning, not knowing you go only in the first locks in the evening, when I called them again, I had little hope we could go Sunday, but the man said I was scheduled for Monday 16h00, so we had more then a day to kill. We took lunch at a restaurant, went to the supermarket, had sundowners, and the day was gone.

Next day after breakfast we did the 2,4NM the flats anchoring, and prepared the boat for the passing, like putting the ropes ready, covering the solar panels, extra fenders between the tyres, at 17h00, the adviser came on board, and from then on all goes fast, lift anchor and as fast as possible (5 to5,5knots) to the first lock. There we went in after a big vessel and we tied up alongside a tug boat.

To go in the canal from the Atlantic side there are tree locks after each other, so every time, we would break lose from the tugboat go slowly close to the lock wall and let the tug pas, The water is very turbulent and the skipper has to pay full attention to the boat, when the tug is tied again to the wall, then we tied again to the tug. SKIPPERS ATTENTION: LOOK AT THE WATER AROUND THE TUG, CLOSE ONLY IN WHEN HE HAS SHUT OF HIS PROPELLORS, THE TUG SKIPPER USES THEM TO STAY AGAINST THE WALL WHILE CREW TIE UP, WHEN HE IS TIED THEN THE TUG SKIPPER TURNS THEM OFF, TIE UP AS CLOSE AS YOU CAN, YOU WILL NOT BE MASHED AROUND TO HARD IN THE TURBULENT WATER. I made the mistake in the second lock to go to quickly to the tug when his propellers where still working, then it is very difficult to make a good approach. From your mistakes you learn.

Break only lose when the big ship is some distance away from you, and the water calms down a bit, the advisor will say when to go.

Tree times you do the same and then you are some 30 meters up and ready to go into the lake, where you go on a mooring for the rest of the night. From the flats to the mooring was done in 3 hours, at 20h00 we where tied to the mooring.

When we where on the mooring I tested my reverse, it did not work, I had my doubts because the boat did not reacted well, but with all the noise in the locks I could not hear the engine, next day I woke up at 5, and try to solve this problem, the only thing I could do was rev up the idle speed a bit, so I had a little more reverse force. Better this problem in reverse then in forward, THEN YOU HAVE A PROBLEM. The other things was that my salt water pomp started leaking, at the end of the passing it was so hard that my under engine bilge pump worked almost continuously, but I made no delays in the passage and expect to have my buffer back in a few weeks.

Next morning at 06h30 a other advisor, comes on board, and we motor to the canal passage, for hours we see no other boats, the weather is calm, and the sun is shining, very beautiful day, around 10h00 we start to see the first big boats who come from the pacific side, we keep close to the starboard buoys and keep clear from the big boats, we can see the works going on in the canal and alongside the canal.

At 12h00 we come to the first lock, the Pedro Miguel lock, this is only one lock that’s brings you about 10 meters down. There was a tourist boat waiting for us, so we could tie up to this boat. The advisor said, that they use the tourist boat a lot to take small boats down. For small boats it is centre lock, need 4 ropes or tied to other boat, tied to be easier.

BECAREFULL: the tourist boat has a rare hull shape like a platform on a boat, this platform sticks out, and you tie up to this platform, if your boat is lower then the platform, you go under the platform. My hull from Helena is amidships 1,3 meter above the water, for my, it was just enough, if your boat is les then 1,10 you have a problem. My advisor wanted me to tie the tyres to the guardrail, I did not accept this and said I wanted them only against the hull, I gave two boathooks to my crew, and said the have to keep the boat away from the tourist boat, luckily we found out as we approached that we had just enough height, to tie up.

This time I would let go the tourist boat first, I told the advisor that I thought this was a better option, he confirmed, so with my limited reverse a backed a little and the tourist boat could go free in front of me, it was a good manoeuvre and the advisor told me so, REMEMBER: you are the captain, the advisor gives advise, you have signed a paper, that YOU are fully responsible for all the damage you or someone ells on your boat makes to yours or other constructions.

The advisors are very friendly and willing people who do this work AFTER their regular job with the canal; they are paid volunteers, who had a training to do this. Victor our first advisor came on board after his daily task with the Panama Canal security. Moses, the second advisor came on his free day, he is a driver from a boat who brings the pilots, measurer, and advisors on board. There are about 80 volunteers to help smaller vessels trough the canal. They do a good job so treat them well.

From the Pedro Miguel to the Mira Flores locks is les then a mile, so we tied again to the tourist boat, and went smooth down, when the water goes down it stays calm, The tourist where making small chat with us and making photo’s off course, they even gave us beer and water and some fruit, I talked to a older women, she asked where we where going, I say to Australia, I saw here eyes widening, she could not believe it, for some people the world is still big. There are cameras in the panama locks so we waved to our friends and family who where watching our passing from there computers.

After the Mira Flores locks we motor out to the bridge of Americas where Moses our advisor got picked up and he can go home now, his job is done, thank you Victor, thank you Moses.

We motor for a while and around 15h00 we drop anchor at Brisas de Amador, and normal cruising live can start again, (repairing things).

Stats: we did 47,1Nm, we used 40 litre diesel, we used engine 12,6 hours, If I get my buffer (891usd) completely back then I paid 609usd for the passage and inspection, paid 30usd to rent 2 ropes, (hade 2 my self), Paid 20usd for 10 tyres,(bought them for 30, sold them for 10usd)

Note: my dept sounder acted very strange, al the time, now I know it is from the locks, the mixture with salt and fresh water drives them crazy, after one day on anchor and dept sounder switched of, every thing is back to normal.

When I look back at this passing, it’s not something fore what you have to be awake for at night.

S/V Helena

Capt. Eddy Huybs

No comments:

Post a Comment