Friday, 8 January 2016

Gatun Locks ...Panama Canal part 1 !

Just before the New Year we had a knock on the hull and our friends of Romano Mike and Gill were looking for line handlers at short notice ....all you needed to do was be able to tie a bowline. Well I can but sometimes if really rushed they go a little wonky! We agreed and I spent the next day tying bowlines to bottles, rails, other bowlines .....if it was stationary for any length of time I tied a bowline to it! We left Shelter Bay at around one in the afternoon and made our way to the anchorage outside Gatun Locks. The adviser was due at 3.30 as we dropped the hook Mike called the Port Authority to tell them we were in place to pick up the adviser only to be told that he would now arrive around 4.00 and we were going through with a container vessel called Atlantic Klipper. 

It got to 4.10 and we saw a pilot boat making its way towards us. It very skilfully edged it's way alongside and Victor our adviser hopped on. He explained to us that we were going behind Atlantic Klipper in the locks and to make our way slowly behind it to the lock. We were the only yacht going through so all four line handlers would have to work.....sometimes if there are two or three yachts going through at the same time the yacht in the middle has little to do while those either side work just two lines each. We had prepared the boat while we were waiting outside the lock, covering the solar panels with cushions to protect them from the possibility of being damaged by a monkeys fist (the hard ball of rope at the end of the line which would be thrown over from the side of the lock to the boat's a bit like a cricket ball.)Romano also had a kayak attached to the side which had to be bought onto the boat. The covered tyres that supplemented the fenders were tied on and we figured we were just about ready.The hundred foot lines were passed through the centre of the cleats so as to stop the lines flicking off when we went down the locks at Miraflores. We had put bowlines in all the lines so all we needed to do now was put the monkeys fist through the bowline tie another bowline to attach and we were sorted ....Simple!

Two tugs gently pushed Atlantic Klipper into place so it was lined up with the docks and we watched the mule trains do their job tightening the lines and ensuring the container ship was ready to move along the lock towards the lock gate at the other end of the lock. As we watched waiting for Victor to tell us to go he was explaining that the back of the boat was the brakes and the main thing was to keep the lines tight and to work together to keep the boat in the centre of the lock. We made our way slowly into the lock and he shouted at the lock side line handlers to throw the monkeys fist in the centre of the boat to avoid both the solar panels and our heads! 

With monkeys fist in hand I secured the light line to our bowline and held it up so the light line did not drag in the water. Mike slowly moved the boat into place behind Atlantic Klipper making sure the guys on the lock side did not have to run but keeping a good walking pace.Victor told us the boys gets p***ed off with you if you make them run and we didn't want to do that! Once in situ the guys took in the light line with the line attached and put the bowline around the bollard. Victor then gave us instructions of how tight he wanted the line to be. As the water gushed into the locks it was pretty hard work bringing that line in and keeping it tight. Gloves were a must. 

There are three locks to go through before you get to the lake but once through the first lock I felt a lot more confident. I realised that there is no rush and if you just followed Victors instructions then no problem.....just enjoy the experience. Once the lock gates open its bring the long blue line in as quick as possible and hold up the light line for the guys to walk along the lockside. They had to climb up the stairs so you need to hold that light line nice and high so it doesn't snag on anything and break. Once up the stairs it's just a matter of the same again ......once in place let out the blue line so they can attach to the bollard and tighten. It was getting dark by the time we were going through the last lock and once through to the lake it was around 7.15 and pitch black. Victor piloted us to the buoy were would stay the night. The buoy is not light and it's really not that easy to see. He had already radioed for his pilot boat to come and collect him and shortly after he helped us secure to the buoy he was stepping onto it once more to hop onto the pilot boat and away off into the night. He told us that it was likely we would have a different adviser the following day and he would arrive at six thirty and tell us what time we would go through the locks at the other end the lake. In the meantime it was time to crack open a beer. We had deserved it! 

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