Transiting the Panama Canal.

2019 ended with an interesting adventure for me. Before transiting from the old to the new year I had the opportunity to transit the Panama Canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

The Lagoon 620 “Plan B” was moored in Shelter Bay Marina, Colon. It’s a nicely manicured place but the adjacent jungle produced the eery deep growling of a large cat in the evenings and vultures were hovering over us throughout the day.

Just before sunset on the 25th of November we left with 3 local line handlers on board. They brought large clean fenders and long mooring lines. In front of the Atlantic Bridge we waited for our pilot, or advisor, to come on board. His role was to communicate with the lock tenders and offer instructions to Martin, Plan B’s captain. Apart from the advisor’s late arrival, the Gatun locks transit went smooth.

With 3 different locks the ships are raised 26 meters up from sea level to the Gatun Lake. The speed at which the locks are filled is impressive. The mix of salt- and freshwater in the first lock makes it feel like you’re floating in a big pot of boiling soup.

Once into the Gatun Lake the advisor instructed the captain where to raft up with 6 other cruising yachts on a large mooring buoy. This is where we spent the night.

Early in the morning we started making our way through the lake and the canal. The surrounding jungle was intensely lush and green as an obvious result of the regular intense rainfall combined with the tropical sun and heat. And just like the beauty of the jungle’s canopy, the humidity would, at times, take your breath away.

At certain narrow stretches of the lake we would have to wait for an oncoming large cargo ship. However, I expected there to be a lot more traffic. I guess it depends on the time of the year.

In the afternoon we reached the Miraflores locks. On either side of Plan B a smaller cruising boat rafted up with us to form a “nest”. They just went along for the ride and while Martin was focusing on maneuvering all three yachts safely in the locks, they were admiring the polished Pocket Superyacht, asking how much it costs and if we could chill their beers…

With the help of the somewhat bossy advisor and line handlers the Miraflores locks didn’t cause any problems either. By 5pm the last doors opened up to the Pacific Ocean. A large frigate bird had seemingly been following our entire transit.

A pelican and a quartet of crocodiles welcomed us into the tidal waters.

Before sunset we were safely moored up in La Playita Marina where dozens of big game fishing boats were moored up next to each other. A Sunseeker and a Pershing were the odd ones out.

The skyline of Panama City forms an impressive backdrop.

However, large gangs of raccoons just outside the marina gates and the heat and humidity are a reminder that the jungle is never far away.

Check out the pictures:

Jens Oomes

Article published in The Islander Magazine January 2020

456 thoughts on “Transiting the Panama Canal.

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