Thursday, 14 January 2016

Miraflores ....Panama Canal part 2

Tied up to the large buoy in Gatun Lake, we said Adios to Victor and settled down to a well earned beer and a plate full of Spaghetti Bolognese. It was a very still, warm night and when we finally settled down in our cabin for some shut eye before an early 6.30 start the next day, I was hoping for a few good hours sleep. It was not to was just so warm in our bow cabin, when I did finally fall asleep I woke up to see John disappearing through the front hatch, he had decided to try to get some sleep on deck.
In what seemed no time at all it was 6.30 and I awoke to the sound of the Pilot Boat dropping off our Adviser for the day, Carlos. Carlos told us we had a slot at the Miraflores Locks of 11.10. It's roughly about thirty miles to the Locks so that meant we had to put our skates on. When you book to go through the Canal you have to give the powers that be an average speed. This has to be above five knots an hour, I have heard that they will accept no less. I don't know what Mike put down but we had to average six and a half if we were to make it on time. Carlos wasn't worried, he told us we had nine large ships coming towards us throughout our trip across the Lake and as we approached each of them he let us know the best way to approach and the 'short cuts' we could safely make in the marked channel. Once past each ship, he crossed it off his list and waited to make contact with the next. Carlos was a happy soul and a good adviser. As we motored along he told us endless facts about the Lake.
There are nine villages under the Lake, that were submerged when the Lake was formed.
During the dry season you can see the tops of the trees that emerge from the underground terrain as the water level drops.

The Smithsonian Institute has an Island on the Lake where they investigate and research the different animals currently living on the Lake.

Closer to the Miraflores Lock we saw Titan, apparently the biggest floating crane currently in use. This was formerly German, built during World War 2 and bought by the Americans for a couple of dollars. They then spent a considerable amount adapting it to be able to float. It is a big beast I have to say.

The prison where Noriega is currently imprisoned can be seen as you approach the Miraflores Lock.

They are constantly dredging the Lake and you can see this process as you make your way past the 200+ buoys on the way to the Locks.

We made it in time, they were running late and we had to hover outside the Lock waiting for a huge Passenger Liner to come out. Once that manoeuvre was completed it was our turn! This time we were going in the Lock first and the huge car transporter Fargo was going in after us. ' Couldn't  you get anything bigger?' We asked!
We made our way slowly in the Lock and repeated the same process. The line handlers on the lockside threw us the monkeys fist, we attached it to the bowline on the boat and then did our best to try to ensure the light line stayed out the water. We edged up to the last bollard before the exit lock gate secured our lines and waited for Fargo to make its way in. The tugs had some difficulty lining the huge vessel up as the wind was swirling and from where we were looking it seemed that he would only just fit in! As it slowly made its way into the Lock we heard the pilot say ' there's a yacht in front of me I cannot see it....can someone tell me how close I am!' Scarey Stuff!! Someone from the vessel came down and we could see him relaying information about our distance to Pilot on the VHF. That sight was a little more reassuring for us, as were the two dings of the bells on the mules telling the Pilot that they understood his instruction....but it edged its way to around 30 feet or so away before all the lines were tightened by the mules and it came to a stop.

The water level started to drop and we slowly let out the lines following Carlos's expert instruction. The stern lines were around the winches and I have to say this seemed a much easier process than pulling the lines in. However, out on the bow there is no shade and it's hot, very hot so a hat and sun tan cream is a must! Of course needless to say I had forgotten both!
Once out the first Lock there is a small lake a few hundred metres or so to cross so the guys take the monkeys fists in and they get thrown back at you in Lock two. At the next Lock you have the added joy of being watched by what must have been two hundred or so spectators who were watching from the viewing balconies, clicking away with their cameras and waving at you furiously. It seemed sort of strange to me that people would come on holiday to do this but each to their own I guess.
Once through the third Lock Carlos warned Mike on the helm that he would not need to drive out the Lock . It was also important for us to take the lines in quickly and only when he told us. We waited until the gates were open and the fresh water and salt water were nicely mixing then following his instruction we shot out of the lock gates at five knots in neutral! We were in the Pacific!

Mike tried to no avail to get on a buoy at Balboa Yacht Club. This yacht club does not seem to be very yacht friendly. They do not answer the VHF and when we finally got them on the phone it was a firm ' no chance'. It might have been better if we had let Carlos ring them but we were not too disheartened and we continued onto the anchorage at La Playita, put the hook down and cracked open a beer. Mike took us ashore in the dinghy where he was informed that it was $35 a week to use the dinghy dock. It was a very secure dock with guards and it was sound with a number of cleats to tie to. So whilst it seemed a bit steep, it does give you peace of mind if you are planning to go into Panama City.
Our job done ....we climbed into Rogers Cab and made our way back to Shelter Bay. It had been a great experience.

1 comment:

  1. Holy S.... thats one big boat on your stern. Bet he doesn't even know your there!!