We met Jan and Bruce at Monday Night Pizza a week before and were invited to come along as line handlers for their canal transit to the Caribbean. They crossed the canal first with Woodwind, their home-built strip-planked gaff rig, in 1989 for $50. Now it costs $600. Holy crap, I say. They swung by Time Machine at 6:30am sharp and we hopped aboard.
Additional line-handling crew were Jerry and Nola on Moonsong from Alaska, also a boat they built themselves. We drank about ten cups of coffee while idling around waiting for the pilot boat to bring us our man for the day.
At 10, our pilot showed up and we motored with purpose for the Bridge of the Americas and the Miraflores Locks beyond. Bruce and Jan were a little tense with this late start because the Pacific-Carib route involves a race across Gatun lake and if we got through Miraflores early, we would have a good chance of making it (Woodwind did not motor at 8 knots); if we didn’t make it through the locks early, we might not make it in time to the Gatun locks and would have to pay an additional $830 for holding up the show.
All that hurry to motor around in circles while waiting for the tourist boat with whom we were to transit the Miraflores Locks. We didn’t make it into the locks until well after 11am and it was looking like it would be iffy as far as making it across the lake in time for the Gatun Locks.
Joshua the Line Handler.
Finally we entered the locks with two canal cruise boats packed with tourists. Our pilot decided to tie us up alongside the white tour boat for the flooding of the locks.
It was very exciting!
Tied up alongside the tour boat, we didn’t have any line handling to do at all; so we took billions of photos.
Piece o cake, baby.
We chatted with the tourists from the white boat, one of whom rattled off the homeports of everyone aboard: “We got two of us from Texas, one from Connecticut, California, Washington, Illinois, Colorado, New York, New Jersey, some Canadians, and a couple from South Carolina.” “Huh,” we said.
Tied up alongside a large heavy power boat, the flooding locks had no effect on us whatsoever.
Our neighbors in the Miraflores Locks; there is always much waving and photo taking even from crew aboard the big ships.
The adorable tanker, “Mommy Duckling.”
It was probably 1:30 by the time we got through the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks and our Gatun Lock time was 4pm; with 22 miles to go against a stiff breeze, it was not looking very good for us. Bruce pushed the motor of Woodwind for all it was worth and our pilot got on the phone to request a later lock time.
Lucky for us, the lake itself is very scenic.
Anticipations high, the pilot called the locks and told them we were 15 minutes away (even though it was more like 25) but as we came out of the Banana Cut to where we could see the Gatun Locks, the tanker we were supposed to be ahead of was just beginning to maneuver into the lock. Not a chance we could get through. We would all have to spend the night in the lake and Jan and Bruce were going to be charged the late fee. There was much throwing up in the air of hands and vociferous protestation amongst those aboard.
Jan is wondering if they have enough rum aboard to pacify this crew.
There was, of course, and before too long Bruce was serenading the howler monkeys with vintage television themes: “Chey-yenne, chey-yennnne! Where will youuuu be campingggg to-niiiiiiight!” (Oh brother!)
The irritation of not making the locks passed quickly really and we were all delighted to find ourselves with the engine turned off (whew!) in a tranquil freshwater lake with a sunset and howler monkeys in the trees. We all jumped overboard and splashed around in the sweet water (a huge treat for folks who have not had a proper shower in months), keeping an eye out for the crocodiles.
We were all up early and ready for the pilot by dawn. Drinking coffee. Having breakfast and drinking more coffee. By the time he finally showed up at noon, we were READY.
We were first in the locks and as forward as possible, which gave us an awesome view down the locks to the Caribbean. Once again, the trip down the locks was a piece of cake.
We were alone this time, suspended in the middle of the lock, with a big humongous container ship right behind us. Ayyy!
The doors opening at the end of the Gatun Locks. You can also just download the video (2 MB) if you’re having trouble with the embedded player.